The Russian Ministry of Public Education and Science’s press release, which “advised” staff at state-run research centers and research institutes to limit their contacts with foreign colleagues, was a source of concern for Russian scientists.
According to a decree published Tuesday by Troicki Variant, a bi-weekly newspaper, heads of scientific institutes must notify the ministry five days in advance of foreign scientists’ visits and report back after their meetings. At least two Russians must be present at the meeting.
According to the document, Russian scientists can meet with their foreign colleagues in their spare time after consulting their leader. The ministry wants foreigners to use the technical means of collecting and processing information only in cases covered by international agreements that are not specified.
In the newspaper, Alexander Fradkov, in a letter to the head of one of the Russian Academy’s mechanical engineering laboratories, called in an open letter to the head of the ministry, Mikhail Kotyukov, to withdraw the Soviet-style rule. Not only does the Ukashan argue that it will not strengthen the country’s security, it will harm Russian science, lead to its isolation, discredit the authorities and obstruct the task set by President Vladimir Putin to become Russia’s leading scientific power.
The Ministry of Public Education said that the decree was not an instruction but a recommendation. The ministry denied that its purpose was to bring scientists under control.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peszkov promised to reporters on Wednesday that the presidential office will look into details of the ordinance in the public education portfolio. He said he did not know the document but called it “exaggerated” according to the details provided by his interviewers.
However, he noted that a degree of vigilance would not hurt, because “foreign specialized services are not asleep, and no one has put an end to scientific industrial espionage.” According to him, such espionage is taking place 24 hours a day, seven days a week, especially against young scientists.
Victor Kudrjavcev, a veteran of the Central Research Institute for Mechanical Engineering (CNIIMas) at Roskosmos, was arrested and charged with treason in July last year in Russia. According to the indictment, Kudrjavtsev provided secret information by electronic mail to the von Karman Institute for Fluid Dynamics, Khodan Khodan, based in Sint-Genesius-Rode, Belgium, on technologies used to develop hypersonic aircraft structures in Russia.
This summer, one of Kudrjavcev’s colleagues, Roman Kovalev, head of the CNIIMas Heat Exchanges and Aerodynamics Center, was charged with treason.