Vladimir Shlapentokh

Июль 27, 2010

Russian Geopolitical Claims and the State of Science in Putin’s Russia: The Crass Incongruence

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Russian Geopolitical Claims and the State of Science in Putin’s Russia:  The Crass Incongruence

Vladimir Shlapentokh

Under Putin’s rule, Russia endeavors to play an active and often aggressive role in the world, but is the country’s economic and military potential worthy of its claim of a first-rank world power?  This report offers a negative response to this question, citing the state of science in Russia today as substantiation, when compared with that of the Soviet Union and other countries.

Yet, despite Russia’s current stance on the economy and science, which can be likened to several other relatively weak countries in the past and present, Russia currently has a number of avenues with which to frustrate Western political objectives, particularly the United States, and to block important initiatives by the international community in the fight against the proliferation of nuclear weapons and against terrorism. At the core of Russia’s official ideology, used to legitimize a non-democratic regime, is a hostile policy toward the West. Until 2010, this policy was combined with a spurious effort to bolster scientific progress and to modernize the economy. However, Russia’s declining role in the global economy, coupled with the threat of mass discontent, has left the ruling elite torn between the desire to preserve the existing regime, including its foreign and domestic policies, and a desire to make technological and economic progress. Those who insist on domestic changes are advocates of cooperation with the West. It is difficult to predict which way the ruling elite will go in the long term.

Russians Believe in their Greatness and the Missionary Role of their Country

Since its installation, Putin’s regime has suggested that in order to return the country to the status of a great power, which it lost in the 1990s, it must radically enhance Russia’s geopolitical role. By 2008, Russian citizens believed that Putin had made good on his promises. Back in 1999, only 14 percent of Russians believed that their country was a “great power,” yet in 2008 that number had risen dramatically to 76 percent, a view supported by the 86 percent of the population who insisted it was necessary for Russia “to keep its role as a great power.” In 2008, two-thirds of the Russian population rejected the possibility that Russia lagged behind the most developed countries.[1] Almost the same number of Russians also believed in the missionary role of Russia in world history. The Russian elite and the intellectuals who serve it (including political analysts and journalists) are equally convinced of Russia’s missionary role in the world. In April 2010, during a conference of experts on international relations, when one of the participants proposed dropping the idea of Russia’s missionary role from the discourse, he found himself totally isolated, with no one supporting him.[2] Russian leaders were in total consonance with the majority of Russians. The leaders’ public statements were interspersed with suggestions of the greatness of their country, its missionary role, the greatness of their people, their culture and their history. As Argumenty i Fakty columnist Viacheslav Kostikov wrote, “In April 2010, official propaganda relentlessly asserts that we are the great people, the heirs of heroic generations and our country thrives with talents.” He continues, “We are inculcated not so much by the feelings of national pride but by the national hubris.” [3]

The Aggressiveness of Weak Countries

Interpreting the data about the resurgence of Russian’s belief in their grandeur is not so simple. We know of countries in history that have erroneously positioned themselves to be great international actors, a vitally important move for governments to enhance their legitimacy and to persuade the population of this mostly illusory fact. Examples of this include acts by Fidel Castro and Nicolae Ceauşescu. Not only did Castro goad Washington with regular offensive broadsides against the United States, but he also challenged America with Cuba’s military intervention in Angola’s civil war. This was in addition to the participation of Cuban soldiers in the defense of the leftist regime in Grenada, against American troops. During the 1970s and 1980s, Castro was able to persuade his subjects to accept that he, and therefore Cuba, played a key role in international politics.                                           Similarly, Nicolae Ceauşescu challenged the USSR in every possible way.  Romania’s case is even more remarkable because unlike Cuba, who could hope for intervention from Moscow, Romania was on its own (as were Egypt and Albania, two other countries that defied great powers in the 1960s and 1970s). In 1968, Romania refused to support the invasion of Czechoslovakia by the countries of the Warsaw pact. Nor did Ceauşescu sever relations with Israel after the Six Day war in 1967, as the USSR and its allies had done. Romania also participated in the 1984 summer Olympics in America, which was boycotted by the USSR and its satellites. Even more important, however, is that Romania maintained cordial relations with China following the 1969 battle on Damansky Island, even as the rest of the world debated the chances of a large-scale Soviet-Chinese military confrontation. The spirit of Romania as a quasi-great country was fueled by the glorification of its past as a major heir of the Roman Empire.

In both Romania and Cuba, the population praised their countries as being almost equal to the superpowers, and hailed their leaders as being highly influential and the wisest politicians in the world. (Yugoslavia can also be added to the list of mid-size countries to challenge great powers, but since 1948, when this country left the Soviet camp, Moscow considered it a break-away “treacherous” country that was not a great threat to them, particularly after Stalin’s death.)

In many respects, the substance of Putin’s foreign policy is reminiscent of Castro’s and Ceauşescu’s aggressive acts against the superpowers of 40-to-50 years ago. The policies are also similar to the current anti-American policies of North Korea, Venezuela, and Iran, as well as those of several other countries, such as Brazil and Turkey, that are slightly less aggressive in their tactics. It is certain that all of these countries use anti-Americanism exclusively for domestic purposes.

Current Russian leaders have used anti-Americanism, in addition to general anti-Western sentiments, almost exclusively to legitimize the existing regime, even as the modernization of the Russian economy—a current goal set by the Kremlin—demands the opposite policy. In their speeches, Russian leaders have claimed that Russia is once again a powerful country, able to defy the United States. To demonstrate the restoration of Russia’s geopolitical status in the world, they have derided the United States, often in unceremonious ways, such as Putin’s notorious 2008 speech in Munich. Even Putin’s boss, Medvedev, who is supposedly more diplomatic and abstains from general vulgarisms, deemed it necessary, in April 2010, to tell to his audience in Rio de Janeiro that he is ready to “spit” on the White House, which could be unhappy with Russian-Brazilian rapprochement. [4]

The reality, however, is that if nuclear weapons are taken out of the equation, Russia—with its economic and military potential—is actually quite removed from the might and abilities of the USSR. This means that its capacity to provoke the United States is not much greater than Cuba’s or Romania’s. Subjective and objective data surrounding the state of science in Russia will be used as substantiation of the thesis that Russia is currently no more than a surrogate great power.

Contemporary Russia in the World Arena: Between Romania and the USSR

It is true that, in 2008, the majority of Russians believed that their country was a great power.  Even if we remove the number of Russians who were not sincere with interviewers—probably no more than 10-15 percent— the predominant belief that “Russia rose from its knees” is obvious.[5] Meanwhile, even within Russia, many people argue against the view that contemporary Russia can even remotely play the same geopolitical role as did the Soviet Union.

The situation was straightforward, from after WWII until the end of the Soviet system. There was a unanimous agreement among all the major actors on the status of the Soviet Union as a superpower. None among the Kremlin, the Soviet population, foreign governments, or international public opinion had even the smallest doubt that the USSR held the highest geopolitical status. The national surveys that I conducted in Russia in the 1960-1970s revealed a strong belief in the USSR’s leading role in the world, as well as near complete support of Soviet foreign policy.  Even the critical intelligentsia, as I found when polling the readers of the liberal Literaturnaia Gazeta, saw the country as a great superpower, despite its attitudes toward domestic issues. [6]It is remarkable that the most liberal party apparatchiks, who were merciless in their evaluation of Soviet internal issues, totally shared the conviction about the greatness of Russia every possible way.[7] There is no doubt that by the early 1980s, Soviet leaders had become increasingly concerned about the growing threat to their military parity with the United States, which was behind Gorbachev’s reforms during the early years of Perestroika.  Today, the situation is radically different.

The majority of its population indeed believes that Russia is now a great country. However, even if most ordinary Russians see themselves as the residents of great nation, about one-quarter sees their country’s geopolitical role differently.[8] These critics of Putin’s regime tend to classify Russia as a country whose place in the world is comparable with Nigeria or, at best, with Mexico. [9]

Even ordinary Russians who believe in the greatness of their country support views that are at odds with the idea of “greatness.”  When discussing the definition of what a “great country” means with interviewers, ordinary Russians quite soberly recognize that Russia can only make this claim because it possesses vast natural resources (32 percent of respondents referred to natural resources in interviews, putting this answer at the top of the list) and nuclear weapons (20 percent referred to this, putting this answer in second place). At the same time, no more than 3 percent of Russians believe that they enjoy a comfortable lifestyle comparable to other great countries, and only 4 percent said that Russia can claim to be a great country because of its advanced levels of science and technology.

As mentioned earlier, Russian leaders have talked relentlessly about the greatness of their country for many years. However, when they move to an analysis of the country’s state of affairs, they describe Russia as a deeply retarded country. In his well-known article “Russia Ahead” (2009), Medvedev writes about Russia’s “humiliating dependence on raw materials.” He insists “the energy efficiency and productivity of most of our businesses remains shamefully low” and confesses that “Russia’s influence in global economic processes is, quite frankly, not as great as [they] would like.” He even recognizes that Russia’s ability to prevent “anyone’s unilateral actions from harming [their] national interests or adversely affecting [their] internal affairs” belongs to the future. [10] With an obvious reference to the poor performance by the Russian troops in the 2008 war against Georgia, Medvedev spoke about the future of the Russian army and “the transition of Russia’s Armed Forces to a qualitatively new level,” when it will be a “modern, efficient and mobile army, trained and equipped to protect us and our allies from any threats” in his 2009 address to the Federal Assembly.  He spoke of the vital necessity of supplying the “troops with new systems, new sorts of weapons and military equipment,” as well as the necessity “to raise the prestige of military service and officers’ status in society.”[11]

The Defense of the Regime: The Conflict Between Foreign and Domestic Goals As a matter of fact, the greatest source of political tension to be found within a large authoritarian regime lies in the dual necessity of defending itself from real or potential domestic enemies and of enhancing the geopolitical status of the country. The political repressions against existing or potential enemies of the regime weaken the position of both the country and its ruling elite, with respect to foreign rivals. Yet, at the same time, a foreign policy success strengthens the regime and forestalls its removal from power by either an alliance of foreign countries or internal enemies. The major concern of any authoritarian regime throughout history is the best strategic choice for a leader in the distribution of resources between these two major goals. In many cases, the ruling elite will sacrifice foreign goals for any domestic measures necessary to their maintaining power within the country. In this case, the current regime replaces active foreign policy with distracting propaganda for domestic consumption. Often, xenophobic propaganda is combined with imitative aggressive actions abroad, which do not pose any real threat to foreign countries. Like the Soviet regime before 1938 and Maoist China during the Cultural Revolution, Putin’s regime has only undertaken superficial actions against foreign enemies; these have been no more than a minor inconvenience to their major adversaries. During the period from the end of the civil war until 1938, Moscow did not dare to go any farther than to reject the 1923 requirement by British Foreign Minister George Curson that Soviet diplomats be recalled from Iran, Afghanistan and a handful of other countries. China, being militarily helpless during the Cultural Revolution, could only pester the USSR with offensive actions against the Soviet embassy in Beijing in the early 1970s. The same has been true of Putin’s Russia, at least until 2009-2010.  In fact, the outward geopolitical goal in Putin’s Russia has become imitative action. Putin’s regime had relegated itself only to galling actions against the United States when it rejected the cooperation with Washington before the global crisis. Indeed, the real goal of the regime—the preservation of the ruling elite headed by Putin, with its accumulated wealth, for an indefinite future, through the elimination of the opposition and ideological brainwashing of the population—has turned geopolitical activity into an area of imitative actions. The same conflict was typical for Stalin’s reign before 1938, sans any personal wealth, which was absent as a factor of politics during Soviet times, but is very important in Russia’s political developments today.

However, there is a special skill to balancing domestic and foreign goals when the ruling elite reach the conclusion that intensive cooperation with foreign powers is better for the regime than a confrontation with them. Only by collaborating with foreigners and restraining from the use of xenophobic propaganda, can the regime hope to be able to solve the acute problems facing the country—regarding its security and the economy—to ultimately avert its collapse, which was exactly what Stalin did during the war when he collaborated with the West and mitigated the anti-Western propaganda. It seems that the global crisis has pushed Putin to follow the policy Stalin followed during the war, toward the West.

Geopolitical Interest and Science under Stalin: Two Periods

In fact, Stalin always had two goals in mind: sustaining his personal power, and a geopolitical goal; defending his regime against foreign enemies, along with intentions of expanding his influence abroad.

Until 1938, during the first period of his reign, Stalin assumed that the threats to his regime stemmed from both foreign and domestic enemies. Believing that a confrontation with foreign enemies (which included both immigrants and bourgeois countries) who hated his regime was unavoidable, he prepared the country for a potential war at the onset of his rule. However, until 1938, the threat from domestic enemies appeared to him to be more dangerous than from foreign ones. In fact, in the 1920s and early 1930s there was no real threat of military invasion in Soviet Russia. During this period, the Kremlin used the foreign threat primarily as an ideological tool for domestic purposes—much like Putin’s regime did in the 2000s. The Kremlin targeted France, England and Poland as the country’s three major enemies, when, in reality, these countries had no intention of attacking the USSR during this time.  The danger of war became real only after 1934, when the threat of Nazi Germany became an objective fact.

Until 1938, Stalin relegated the geopolitical goal to the protection of his regime against domestic threats, as he understood them. The foreign factor became subordinate to the domestic factor during the mid-1930s, despite the fact that the probability of war in Europe and the Far East was very high. Still, the threat of war did not prevent the mass execution of his military commanders. It also did not prevent Stalin from creating chaos in the military industry by regularly arresting managers and abetting workers against the engineers. Thus it is only natural that even the official Soviet statistics registered the decline of the GNP in 1937-1938, although that was a remarkable event in the official data, which otherwise showed only growth in numbers from the end of the Civil War almost to the end of the Soviet system. The repressions did not spare scholars or top engineers either. Since the Shakhty trial in 1928, the persecution of highly qualified specialists was a normal part of Soviet life, even if the relative number of the arrested scholars and engineers was much less than those of the apparatchiks and old party members, who were the main targets of the great terror. (The time of the Great Cultural Revolution in China, from 1966-1974, is another telling example of a ruling elite that was totally absorbed with defending the regime while almost entirely ignoring foreign affairs, even while imitating—giving the false impression of—their readiness to fight the Soviet Union.)

The situation in the USSR changed radically in 1938, when Stalin modified his policy of terror and replaced the head of the NKVD, Nikolay Ezhov, with Lavrentii Beria. On the eve of the war, as well as during and after the war, Stalin continued to murder generals and to persecute scholars, such as those who believed in genetics, opponents to Lysenko, and linguists who did not share Stalin’s views on language. The decision to expand the role of Russian nationalism under the official ideology demanded the launching of a cosmopolitan campaign, which was anti-Western and anti-Semitic in its essence, and evoked fear in the intellectual community.

However, the scope of repression declined significantly after 1938. Several military commanders, scholars, and engineers were released from the Gulag before and during the war. When the domestic factor came into conflict with the geopolitical, the former often won, but not always. With personal power well established, the leader could afford to pay much more attention to the areas that determined the military power of the country.

The State of Science as a Major Indicator of the Country’s Vitality

Among various indicators that measure the potential of a country and its long-term ability to influence international and regional developments, such as a military and economic power, is the status of science. Of course, the global character of science and the opportunities available to any country to use the scientific achievements made abroad have somewhat diminished the impact of national science on domestic developments. While this is true throughout history, it is especially accurate now, when the world has become so interconnected through the internet. However, without first-rank scholars, no country can assimilate the international progress in science and technology, successfully import foreign technology, and provide its own economy with the newest products of technological progress.

Whatever the KGB’s contribution was in the creation of the first Soviet nuclear bomb, the activity of Soviet spies could not have been as successful as they were without the team of prominent Russian physicists. Soviet science was advanced enough to create the first hydrogen bomb, to send Sputnik and the first man into space, and to make advanced aircraft that outperformed their American counterparts during the Korean War.

Not only is the military industry doomed to stultify without domestic scientific advancement, but the civil industries will as well, particularly those whose branches produce goods for export. Among the long-term consequences of the decay of science is the general decline of the quality of university and secondary education. But, even more important, is the deterioration of the use of objective criteria selecting qualified experts at all levels of bureaucracy, in addition to the growth of obscurantism in society, including an increase in the number of people offering, in many cases with success, various false projects and theories.

The scientific sector in Putin’s Russia is in an abominable situation. It can be said that never in Russian history has the status and prestige of science been as low as it is under Putin’s rule. In order to understand the stance of Putin’s regime towards science, it is necessary to recognize the difference between two types of regime activity: the “real” and the “imitative” (or deceptive).

Putin’s Imitative Activity

Putin’s policy toward science is typical of his “show-off policy” toward issues he treats seriously in public, but which, in fact, is purely imitative and deceptive in nature. When engaging in show-off activity, the actor is not as concerned with the achievement of his proclaimed and publicly endorsed goals, but with advancing onto others the false impression that he or she is partaking in useful social activity.  In fact, the actor is only moderately interested (if at all) in the achievement of the proclaimed goal, which would demand the expenditure of resources he needs for other objectives. Of course, the show-off activity also demands considerable resources, and those involved must always compare the cost-benefit of their deceptive activity and determine how much they are willing to spend on materials and human resources for the deception of “others.”

Show-off activity can be found in any society; all groups and institutions are engaged in it. Indeed, Potemkin’s villages in pre-revolutionary Russia made a famous contribution to the history of this type of public deception. Show-off activity entered the social sciences through the works of the remarkable American sociologist Erving Goffman in the late 1950s. He described that making impressions on others—often false ones—were an important human activity.[12] The military sphere is another interesting area of impression management.  Military commanders at various levels often use deception as their weapon against the enemy, and weigh the advantages and disadvantages of this sort of activity.

The utilization of false impressions is particularly strong in authoritarian societies whose leaders are permanently in a position to defend their regime from domestic and foreign enemies. This deceptive posturing was a typical feature of the Soviet system. The Soviet state incurred massive labor and material costs in order to involve party apparatchiks, teachers, writers, movie directors and others of influential status in their deceptive impression management for the purpose of spreading propaganda.[13] The countless “innovations” in the Soviet economy—from the notorious Stakhanov movement in the 1930s to the computerization of management in the early 1980s—are examples of ritualistic actions that brought no improvement to the efficiency of the Soviet economy.[14]

During Yeltsin’s reign, the media’s discussion of social life was comparatively honest, but under Putin’s rule, making false impressions became much more prominent in the industry.[15] Let’s start with the fact that the political system, as it functions under Putin, is an imitation of a true democracy. Its main elements, such as elections, an independent legislature and court system, and the free media all simply imitate the work of actual democratic institutions.[16]

In dealing with major social and economic issues, Putin’s administration has applied the same show-off approach. Indeed, since the very beginning of his tenure in 2000, Putin’s administration has regularly vocalized its concern with the crude character of the Russian economy, the rampant corruption, the dismal state of science and education, the sinister demographic tendencies and alcoholism, the appalling state of health services, and, of course, the low preparedness of its army. There is no doubt that the government makes certain efforts to allocate some resources to improve the situation in each of these spheres, but what is actually done to alleviate these issues is small in comparison to the proclaimed objectives. In the meantime, the propaganda portrays each of the Kremlin’s moves as a great success, creating a false picture of the real state of affairs.

The most recent incident of imitative activity is the case of the Russian spies who were arrested in the United States at the end of June 2010. The character of their activity, the “secret” gathering of information that can easily be found on the Internet, astounded all of the secret service experts in the world. As the prominent Russian journalist Yulia Latynina noted, the spy case is another example of the replacement of legitimate professional work with show-off business by the Russian intelligence service.[17]

Many of Putin’s activities have been completely genuine and, in several cases, his official statements should have been taken at face value. Putin’s administration has certainly attempted to increase the income of the population and mitigate the impact of the crisis of the standard of living. Putin’s refusal to cut social expenditures despite the growing budget deficit and the drying up of the “reserve fund” accumulated during the time of drastic increase of oil was, indeed, legitimate. The media reports about the Kremlin’s feverish bustle in expanding gas and weapon exports, and with the building of various pipes lines were true. At the same time though, the Kremlin obscures as much information from the public as possible.

Activities such as the incessant enrichment of the ruling class, the true origins of the wealth of its members—from Putin down to the low-ranking regional officials—and the protection of corrupted officials, surely do not make it into the hands of the public. The maintenance of a false picture of Russian life and the concealment of its real problems remain a major preoccupation of the Kremlin’s administration, along with the sustenance of the image of Russia as a besieged fortress, with the United States as the major enemy.

Of course, Putin’s regime abets and exploits the nationalistic feelings of the masses in its manipulation of the people’s minds, in order to maintain the false impressions of the regime’s true goals. Historical events that put Russians in a flattering light are widely used by the Kremlin (here Putin follows the Soviet ideological management), which simply erases the unfavorable pictures of present-day life with the great successes of the past. The celebration of the 65th anniversary of the victory over Nazi Germany started almost a half a year before May 9, and took a lion’s share of time on the major official television channels.  Even the heated debates about Stalin’s role in Soviet history, which have been incited by the Kremlin, have been used as a tactic to replace debates on the real issues faced by the country.[18] The attempts to make the 2014 Summer Olympiad in Sochi and the 2018 World Cup games into major events for the Russians is another example of the utilization of the old Roman wisdom panem et circenses: bread and circus are indeed sufficient to make their life happy, regardless of the behavior of their rulers.[19] Impression management is so important to the current Kremlin that it prefers to use its limited resources not for “real stuff,” which includes the military, but for the gala enterprises that arouse patriotic feelings to enrage the critics of Putin’s regime.[20] It looks as though President Medvedev, with his liberal rhetoric, has been assigned by Putin to play a leading role in the imitative activity in the country. Medvedev incessantly talks about the improvement of the Russian political system, particularly in the area of law enforcement, as he spoke of during his speech at Stanford on June 24, 2010.  However, Moscow observers almost unanimously noted—including those who commented on Medvedev’s speech at Stanford (with the exception of the most hackneyed authors)—that not one of Medvedev’s proposals was implemented.[21] In the opinion of almost all objective analysts, the political system has not changed under Medvedev’s watch.[22]

Like the public in any country, the Russian people have trouble judging the implementation of national policy on a large scale as it affects the country as a whole, since the personal experience is often not enough to make such generalizations and, for this reason, the government controlled media imposed the official assessments of progress in different areas of life upon the people’s minds. The Russian public was being bombarded by televised reports highlighting the achievements in all spheres of Russian life including the army, science, health services, education, housing conditions, etc. Since the reaction of the people usually depends greatly on expectations, Russians perceived the defeat of the Russian athletes during the Olympic Games in Vancouver as a national catastrophe.  The Kremlin itself is responsible for this near mourning in the country, because it always tries to use even the most modest successes of the Russians in sports or musical competitions (like the Eurovision song festival) to bolster the mood in the country. Before the games, the Kremlin and media raised the expectations of the Russians, promising the triumph of the Russian athletes.  However, the reality turned out to be very bitter and, as Russian journalists noted, the sportive results in Vancouver helped the Russians to understand the real state of affairs in their country.[23]

The Soviet and Putin’s Policy toward Science: A Big Contrast

As previously mentioned, Stalin radically changed his attitudes toward science after 1938. Even during the ferocious anti-Semitic campaigns at the end of the 1940s and the early 1950s, the Jews who worked for military purposes were mostly spared from persecution and continued to work at their jobs. Notably, Stalin’s ideologists wanted to spread their anti-Western and anti-Semitic campaigns to physics. Einstein and his Theory of Relativity were already the target of a growing number of publications, and the notion of an existence of two physics—bourgeois and Marxist—had gained momentum (Two biologies—one bourgeois with genetics, and another, Soviet, with Lysenko’s theory, were already entrenched in the Soviet discourse).  In 1952, the preparation for a big convention, similar to that which had set off the persecution of the advocate of bourgeois biology, looked to be unstoppable. However, at the last minute, the geopolitical considerations of the importance of physics for the creation of new weapons won over the masters of ideological hysteria and the convention was canceled.

Refusing to release the most highly qualified specialists from prison before the war, Stalin ordered the creation of the famous “sharazhki,” a special division in the Gulag, which was described vividly in Solzhenitsyn’s First circle. The number of sharazhki increased significantly after the war. Here, the lucky residents worked not by cutting lumber in -40 degrees Celsius temperatures, but in warm offices. They enjoyed fabulous privileges because they were educated people who were able to be useful in the military-industrial complex.

There are other remarkable facts. During the bloody war, particularly from 1943 onward, when victory was in sight, Stalin refused to allow any person with a scholarly degree into the army (which also included students in college with a scientific and engineering orientation), in order to save the scientific elite and their future in the nation. Russian authors recalled that in 1946, in order to make a breakthrough in Soviet physics and mathematics, Stalin radically raised the salary of all scholars and, with one stroke of the pen, made the profession of “scholar with a degree” the most attractive in the country, second only to the position of the apparatchiks. (As a student at the university in this period, I vividly remember the effect of this raising of salary on society.)

Stalin’s heirs followed his policy toward science, as it was shaped after 1938. They regularly invited scholars to the Kremlin and created a network of research institutes, which served as the basis for expertise on various issues. Such scholars as Yuri Arbatov, Director of the Institute of the U.S.A. and Canada, Alexei Rumiantsev, Vice President of the Academy of Science, and Nikolai Fedorenko, Director of Central Economics and Mathematical Institutes, were regularly called to the Central Committee for consultations.[24] Even Nikita Khrushchev, with his reputation as an emotional leader with a propensity for making impulsive decisions, regularly addressed the scholars for advice, and created the Council of Science in the Kremlin.[25] During his rule, Mikhail Gorbachev was always surrounded by scholars. The prominent Abel Aganbegian, Leonid Abalkin, and Stanislav Shatalin, as well as the outstanding physicist, Roald Sagdeev, were among his closest advisors.

The scholars retained their privileges from the Kremlin, despite proposals to eliminate them. Until the end of the Soviet system, scholars remained a part of the wealthiest class in the country. The standard of living, which included special housing conditions and the supply of consumer goods (through special stores, of course), in all of the scientific centers like Novosibrisk Academgorodok, Dubno, Pushchino, and Chernogolovka, were much higher, even in comparison with Moscow. (It was only when I was invited to work in Novosibirsk Аcademgorodok, in 1962, that I was able to get my first apartment at the age of 36.) As members of one of the most important groups in the population, scholars had their say in the Central Committee of the party and the Supreme Soviet. They also received various titles, such as the “Hero of Socialist Labor,” in addition to other medals of honor. The prestige of mathematician Mikhail Lavrentiev, the founder and head of the Siberian section of the Academy of Science (1957 — 1975), was so high in the Soviet hierarchy that he could ignore the disapproval of the first secretary of the Novosibirsk regional party committee, in regards to the intellectual freedom in the scholarly city. If, in Putin’s Russia, the oligarchs set up the standard of living for the officials, with their lavish receptions, luxurious yachts, and villas abroad, in the Soviet times it was the life of the intellectual community that was imitated by party apparatchiks, as seen in the diary of Anatoli Cherniaev, which describes the life of the nomenclature in the 1970s-1980s in detail.[26]

The real test of the Kremlin’s stance toward science was the dissident activity of the     scholars. It is well known that scholars in post-Stalin Russia were a major force of the opposition. In fact, the majority of those who signed the famous letters of protests against the trials over dissidents were scholars. [27] Scientific cities, such as Novosibirsk Academgorodok and Obninsk, were the centers of oppositional activity in the country. [28] Almost all the scholars who signed letters of protests and were involved in other dissident actions were physicists and mathematicians. At the same time, the number of social scientists who were of no importance to the industrial military complex, but who were still involved in dissident activity, was very small. The repressions against the first category of scholars were actually quite mild, or even absent; almost none of them were fired from the research institutes. Even Sakharov, who declared war on the Soviet system, received a relatively mild punishment, his exile to Gorky, to the surprise of the Soviet population. Ten years earlier, another famous physicist, Lev Landau, who was reported by his friends and colleagues –who happened to also be informants of the KGB — was not persecuted, despite his evident hostility toward the Soviet order, which he compared with the Nazi regime.[29]

The Current Elite and its Attitudes toward Science

When compared with the position taken by the Soviet authorities, the activity of Putin’s regime, with respect to science, looks to be mostly show-off business. The post-Stalin leaders, including Gorbachev, until August 1991, were so confident in their control over the masses that they didn’t feel threatened by independent thinkers. It was Yeltsin who invited Gaidar and a number of other scholars into the government and into the presidential council. Among the chosen intellectuals were such prominent sociologists as Boris Grushin, Yurii Levada, and Tatiana Zaslavskaia. With Putin’s regime, the Kremlin’s interest in communicating with scholars has seemingly disappeared.[30]

Almost from the very beginning, Putin’s regime demonstrated its indifference and, in some cases, even hostility toward the scholarly community. Scholars were practically absent both in the presidential administration and the government in general. Unlike the past, the Kremlin rarely hosts scholars in the capacity of experts.

Society perceived the Kremlin’s decision to eliminate the formal autonomy of universities and to appoint the presidents of leading universities from the ranks of apparatchiks as a sign of contempt for scientists. The appointment of an ordinary apparatchik as the president of Kazan University, which is connected with the names of great scholars (among them Lobachevskii, a precursor to Einstein), was an offensive act of defiance to the scholarly community.[31]

However, it is the Kremlin’s attitude toward the Russian Academy of Science that is an even greater indicator of the status of science in the minds of Russian leadership. Never in Russian history have the leaders of the country treated a major scientific institution as badly as they currently do the Academy of Science. This was a highly respected institution during the Soviet times, which provided all of the major institutions in the country with expertise, a function it has since lost, as noted in May 2010 by the president of the Siberian section of the Academy of Science, Eduard Krugliakov, a man who works under Putin.[32] In the post-Stalin period, the Academy of Science refused to obey commands from the Kremlin many times. Such was the case when the Academy refused to expel Sakharov from this institution, as well as in other instances when the Academy ignored the recommendations of the authorities to incorporate important apparatchiks in its ranks.

In recent months, it has become evident that the Academy of Science has fallen fully into disgrace, and rumors of its liquidation have become a staple in conversations among scholars.[33] In the opinion of many people, there are very prosaic motives behind the attacks against the Academy, which influence the intentions of bureaucracy. One of them, as put forth by academician Krugliakov, is that high officials desire the privatization of the very valuable buildings in downtown Moscow which currently belong to the Academy of Sciences, of which there are many, for themselves and their friends. According to other sources, animosity toward the Academy is fueled by its unwillingness to award a full member title to Mikhail Kovalchuk, Putin’s friend and the brother of banker Yurii Kovalchuk, who is known in Russia as Putin’s cashier. Despite his meager scientific credentials, Putin appointed Mikhail Kovalchuk, a very mediocre scholar, to be the director of the leading physical institute in the country, and then as the head of the “Nano Corporation,” with a multi-billion dollar budget.[34]

The declaration by a third man in the government, speaker Boris Gryzlov, that the Academy was a “bulwark of obscurantism,” only fueled rumors about the deep hostility held by the Kremlin toward the Academy of Science.[35] Indeed, none of the Soviet leaders ever talked to the members of the Academy of Science with such condescension and badly veiled contempt as Putin did when he spoke at an annual gathering of the academy on May 18, 2010, with1200 members in attendance. He counseled the highly qualified scholars that it is possible to make great discoveries without funding, and added, in his vulgar manner, that those who are too critical of the government should “have a medication which stimulates brain activity” in order “to calm them down.»[36]

These attitudes from the Russian leaders toward science reflect their general stance toward the intellectual potential of the country. The prominent Russian journalist, Yulia Latynina, noted that current Russian leaders despise talented people who are a nuisance to them, and that they are an obstacle to their self-assurance as great managers, thus the country’s leaders intentionally encourage “the flight of brains from the country.”[37] Latynina is supported by Mikhail Deliagin, another prominent author and Director of the Institute of Globalization. In his words, when facing the critics of the current regime, Putin’s bureaucrats usually suggest that they “go away from the country.” The ruling elite, as Deliagin said, not only “does not see anything terrible in the mass departure of young scholars and specialists from the country” but even dreams of having all free minds leave the country.[38]

The Kremlin’s Current Show-Off Interest: Science

Russian scholars continue to be relatively low-paid, in comparison with the salary of scholars in developed countries (the average salary for Russian scholars in 2010 was $1000/month, while the average salary for everyone throughout Russia was $700/month). Even in post-Soviet Lithuania and Latvia, the average professor’s salary is about $2000-$2200, while salaries in Estonia and Poland can range up to $3000.
Measures to encourage Russian scholars to enhance their activity have had a limited impact on the growth of the science sector, not only because of the low salaries, but also because they lack the proper conditions for productive scholarly work. In his speech at the general assembly of the Academy of Science on May 18, 2010, Putin just about mocked the scholars who demanded higher salaries and money for equipment, suggesting instead that they look to Russian mathematician Grigorii Perelman, who refused any pecuniary reward from Russian and foreign institutions after his great discovery in theoretical mathematics.

The Real Facts: Expenditures on Science
It is amusing how similar two separate appeals from Russian scholars to the government can be: the first was made in the wake of the civil war, and the other has been made almost a century later. In both cases, using almost the same words, scholars tried to persuade the leaders of the country—the Bolsheviks in the first case (1920), and Putin’s team in the other (2010)—that the lack of resources will lead to the collapse of Russian science and the best minds’ flight to the West.[39]
According to the data from the World Bank for 2007, the expenditure on science in Russia (1.1 percent of GNP) is much lower than in most developed countries. Finland, with 3.5, and Israel, with 4.7 percent, are particularly remarkable in their expenditures. (U.S.A. 2.7, Austria 3.5, Belgium 1.9, Canada 2.0, China 1.5, Denmark 2.6, France 2.1, Germany 2.6, Japan 3.4, The Netherlands 1.8, Norway 1.7, Sweden 3.7, Britain 1.8, Portugal 1.2)[40] The Russians spend ten times less money on science and research than the U.S.A., three times less than Germany, two times less than France, and 15 times less than Britain.[41]

The Relative Status of Russian Science in the World

The status of Russian science in the world has declined immensely over the last two decades. As told by a leading official in the Russian Academy of Science in May 2010, the Russian contribution to science and technology worldwide is about 2 percent, compared to 35 percent from the United States.[42] According to additional data, Russian authors write only 2.6 percent of the articles published in the scientific journals indexed by Web of Science, as opposed to 8.4 percent by Chinese authors, 2.9 by Indian, and 2.5 by Dutch.[43]

The state of Russian science is an indirect reflection of the status of Russian universities. Among the 100 best universities, according a survey done by the U.S. News & World Report, not one is from Russia, but there are seven Japanese universities, three in Hong Kong, two in Ireland, four in the Netherlands, two in Denmark, and four Swiss universities. Two Russian universities were ranked within in the middle of the second hundred: Moscow University with a ranking of 155, and Petersburg University at 168. [44]

Flight of Scholars from Russia

The flight of scholars and university graduates from the more prestigious Russian colleges began in the 1970s, and increased enormously with Perestroika and the collapse of the Soviet system. As noted by Valerii Kostiuk, a leading official of the Russian Academy of Science, in May 2010, Putin’s regime has made no effort to stop the mass exodus of the acting and future scholars from the country.[45] Currently, 15 percent of graduates leave the country each year.  According to present data, 700,000 scholars from Russia are currently working abroad.[46]

Prestige of Scholars in the Population

The prestige of scholars was quite high in pre-revolutionary Russia, which even included high school teachers, who enjoyed great prestige in Russian society. Indeed, university professors reveled in such high status that they were considered to belong to the privileged class of the Russian monarchy. Still, it was only natural that the absolute majority of 11,000 scholars, with a few exceptions, would be deeply hostile toward the new Soviet order.[47]

One of the first discoveries made by Soviet sociology in the early 1960s was the fantastically great prestige accorded to scholars in Soviet society. In fact, scientists seized the top of the prestigious ladder for the Soviet scholarly youth. In the 1960s, the scholars were at the top of the hierarchy of professions. On a scale of 1-10, scholars in mathematics and physics turned out to be the most revered, with scores between 7.5 and 8.0. As I discovered through my national surveys during the 1960s and 1970s, scholars like Sakharov, Arzimovich, or Leontovich were mentioned most often as models for civic behavior.[48]

Conversely, the prestige of scholars in Putin’s Russia has reached a historic low for the country. Even if one were to suppose that the high regard for scientists in the Soviet Union was, to some degree, due to the lack of opportunities provided by a more free society such as today’s Russia, the drastic decline in the reputation of scholars in the public mind is still largely due the government’s neglect of science. Certainly, as the data demonstrates, the attractiveness of scientific professions has fallen far behind other types of professions.[49] Currently, the position most coveted by young people is that of a manager in a raw materials industry, particularly in the state apparatus, where officials get a large amount of illegal income.[50]

The Increase of Obscurantism in the Country

With the decline of the status of science and the overall prestige of scholars, a wave of deep obscurantism has inundated the country. The deterioration of science was accompanied by the increasing influence of the Orthodox Church, which, with its deep xenophobia and unceremonious intervention in scientific matters, encouraged contempt for science in Russian society. In any society, including the United States, the regular appearance of pseudo-inventors and scholars is a normal phenomenon. A society normally checks the flow of fraudulent and “sensational” discoveries, and does not allow scholarly institutions or the government to be influenced by them. Such was the situation in the post-Stalin Soviet Union, where fanatical individuals and crooks had very limited room for their activities.

A radically new situation emerged in Putin’s Russia. With the great decline in respect for genuine science, frauds got the attention of influential politicians, who quite often saw their creations as a great source for additional income and publicity. Journalists and the most prestigious media outlets lost their prior immunity against false discoveries and absurd stories. Indeed, in April 2010, Vladimir Pozner, one of the most famous Russian TV journalists, spoke quite seriously with Kalmykian President, Kirsan Ilumzhinov, about his encounter with extraterrestrials and his travels to another planet.[51]

Many high officials enrolled themselves as the coauthors of patents, which were usually fictitious. Yurii Luzhkov, the Mayor of Moscow and one of the most well-known Russian politicians, brazenly ignored common sense when he declared himself to be the author of dozens of inventions, including a new type of internal combustion engine. Luzhkov has also claimed to have invented a special way of disintegrating clouds over Moscow when his city needs a clear sky for parades or other festivities and, as was noted by several sources, he was also a participant in a group searching for a new anti-cancer drug. For each of these inventions, he has received a new patent.[52]

The case of Boris Gryzlov, the speaker of the State Duma and the third person in the Russian political hierarchy, is even more remarkable. The hero of this story, which was an obsession of the Russian media for months, was Victor Petrik; the entire drama was labeled “Petrikgate” in Russia.[53] In the opinion of many Russian analysts, Petrik has the biography of a typical adventurist and crook. As part of his inventor’s checkered history, he holds a degree in psychology and is said to have informally studied physics. He spent much of the 1980s in prison for smuggling antique furniture and he learned self-hypnosis from an uncle. Yet, Petrik has received endorsements and contracts from top Russian officials, including Vladimir Putin (before he became prime minister), as well as from major Russian companies. United Russia, the ruling party, regularly gives Petrik prominent roles in events on innovation, while officials, including Boris Gryzlov, the speaker of Russia’s parliament, have publicly endorsed his products. The two men are listed as the authors of a patent granted in 2009, for a filter that Mr. Petrik says can turn radioactive waste into water that is safe to drink.[54] At the government-sponsored St. Petersburg International Economic Forum in June 2008, Mr. Gryzlov glowingly introduced Mr. Petrik as «a person who has a large quantity of inventions and patents.» According to an official transcript, Mr. Petrik responded in kind: «Boris Vyacheslavovich [Gryzlov] personally doesn’t just observe, he participates in all the experiments.»

A year ago, Mr. Gryzlov visited Mr. Petrik’s labs with the head of Rusnano, the state nanotechnology company. Seven months later, Rusnano approved 79 million rubles ($2.6 million) in venture funding for Mr. Petrik’s project to extract the chemical element rhenium from scrap, saying that the project met its strict technical standards. Among Petrik’s active supporters was Sergei Kirienko, the head of the Russian state nuclear energy company.[55]

Meanwhile, a number of prominent Russian scholars who have investigated Petrik, refer to him as a charlatan. Petrik even makes Trofim Lysenko look like a genuine scholar by comparison. Still, his ideas are the subject of past and current debates. Petrik, with protectors at the highest level of the hierarchy, is, for practical purposes, a crook. In February, United Russia presented a national clean-water program to the government, which some officials have said could be worth as much as $500 billion over the next decade. Mr. Petrik says he plans to compete to have his filters included in the project.

Even more upsetting is that, despite their awareness of this man’s ruse, several members of the Academy of Science have visited Petrik’s office and lent him their full support, a fact which made honest Russian intellectuals who still remember Lysenko’s case shudder in disgust. More troubling was that the president of the Russian Academy of Science, Yurii Osipov, came to the defense of this pseudo-scholar.[56]

The special commission of the Academy of Science against pseudo-science, with its severely limited clout in society, has been unable to fight false “innovators.” Gryzlov and other members of the parliament turned the tables on the Academy of Science, labeling it as a disseminator of obscurantism.[57] Elements of obscurantism now crawl into the public statements of leading Russian scholars. Yurii Osipov, the president of the Russian Academy of Science, dismissed the low citation rate for articles published in non-Russian-language science journals as a characteristic of Russian science, which questions the need for Russian scientists to publish in foreign journals. He said that any top level specialist “will also study Russian and read papers in Russian.”[58]

The Moral Decline of the Scholarly Community

All told, the scholars in the Soviet Union were the vanguard in the critiques of the regime. Ironic as it sounds, in Putin’s Russia, which is much more liberal than post-Stalin’s Soviet Union, the scholarly community is greatly more conformist than it was from 1960-1980. The most visible activities of the critics of the regime in last few years are the “dissenters marches,» which have taken place several times in Moscow and Petersburg, and the meetings of regime critics on the 31st of every other month—an allusion to an article of the Russian Constitution which declares the freedom to have meetings and demonstrations. There are no scholars among the participants. The young scholars only dare to participate in the non-political demonstrations demanding a raise in their salary.[59] The obedient behavior of the scholars became particularly obvious in Petrik’s case, as discussed earlier.

The Attitudes toward Foreign Scholars and émigrés

It is remarkable that the Kremlin, which is responsible for the actual condition of Russian science, is now trying to stop its continued decline by inviting foreign scholars and Russian emigrants to work in Russia.

This is an amusing twist in history, if we take into account the anti-cosmopolitan campaign of the 1940s and early 1950s, with its denigration of Western science; in a more mild form, it has continued to have an impact on the Russian minds up until the present time. The Kremlin’s official appeal to Western science for help is also in great contrast to its continuing defamation of the West and the accusation that the Western people—particularly Americans—are intellectually inferior to the Russians, driven only by pecuniary greed, while Russians are devoted mostly to lofty things.

At the same time, this new policy toward foreign scientists, combined with the Kremlin’s indifference toward the mass departure of Russian talent to the West is not really a recent development in Russian history. Since the era of Peter the Great, the Russian state has encouraged the arrival of foreign scholars—mostly German—to Russia, and even bestowed honorary citizenship upon them. M.Muraviev, the head of the Moscow educational district in the early 19th century, almost literally preempted the words of the present-day Russian leaders when he demanded the invitation of foreign professors, under the most favorable conditions.[60] Throughout its history, several great Western scholars lived quite a long time in Russia (the mathematician Euler in the 18th century, for example). Even while launching the anti-cosmopolitan campaign, Stalin only trusted the American design of the nuclear bomb, which was stolen by KGB agents, and rejected the design made by Soviet scholars. It is well known that those in the KGB considered themselves to be the real “fathers” of the Soviet nuclear bomb, and downgraded the role of the prominent Soviet physicists. By all accounts, Putin was educated in the same tradition of disrespecting Russian scientists, which he revealed this past May in his talk at the annual gathering of the Academy of Science, when he deemed it appropriate to remind the audience that the institution in which he worked in the late 1980s (evidently referring to the KGB) used “special means” to provide the country with “the results of scientific projects of your foreign colleagues.” (Putin also lamented that the products of the KGB’s activity were not often used in the Soviet economy.)[61]

In any case, keeping their own scholars on a minimal budget, Putin’s Kremlin has turned its eyes toward the Russian scholars who left the country to work in foreign academic institutions. However, a study from 2009 that researched the attitudes of former Russian scholars who were given the option to return permanently to Russia by the Moscow Highest Economic School shows that the majority (about two-thirds) would only consider this opportunity on the condition of “the radical and total improvement of the situation in the country.”[62] The Kremlin is evidently focusing not on émigrés, but on foreign scholars whom they hope to lure with Western salaries.

The Recent Shift In The Domestic Policy: Genuine Or Another Case Of Show-Off Politics?

Even during its best years, neither the Russian political nor the economic elites found themselves feeling very confident in their futures. Conventional wisdom in Russia notes that most high-ranking officials keep their rainy day money in foreign banks. One Russian mogul contended that “85 percent of the business men” were ready to flee the country at a moment’s notice, a statement that drew the attention of Russian president.[63] Even still, until 2010, the belief in the stability of Putin’s political order was quite high. The faith that Putin’s authoritarian reign, with its anti-American ideology, would last for many years after 2012, the year of the next presidential election, was wide-spread in the country and looked to be deeply rooted in the mind of the elites. However, the complacency of the regime in its contempt for the West, and particularly for America, faltered somewhat when it became apparent that Russia’s attitudes toward the United States had begun to improve. Some analysts have ascribed this development to the appearance of Medvedev as another Russian leader with a liberal program of change on his agenda; a new Perestroika in mind. These analysts have searched for the seed of conflict between him and his mentor Vladimir Putin. I do not share this view. In my opinion, the cause of these changes must be found in the fact that oil prices have dropped significantly, compared to the middle of the 2000s, when the high cost of oil was combined with the peak of Putin’s arrogance in regards to the United States. British analyst Timothy Ash is correct in writing that “the global crisis has laid bare deep-seated structural problems in Russia that policy makers need to address.” [64] As in the past, 80 percent of exports and 45 percent of budget revenues are derived from oil. The rapid depletion of the governmental savings accumulated during the “fat years,” and the lack of any progress in the Russian economy forced the ruling duo to reconsider their self-confidence and their policies toward the economy, science, and foreign countries.

The possible decline of the standard of living, along with the weak and deeply corrupted bureaucracy—particularly in the police force—could prove mortal to the regime. The unprecedented case of the “Far East Guerillas” could only arouse trepidation in Moscow. Over the last few months, a group of young men in the Maritime region have hunted and murdered police. Since the aggressions began, local law enforcement agencies have employed helicopters and tanks to neutralize any opposition to them.[65] What is particularly important to note in the analysis of this event is that not only was the local population delighted by the deeds of the guerilla group, they saw the members of this vigilante gang as their heroes. As the Levada center found, many people in the country (22 percent), particularly the residents of the capital (46 percent), revealed their sympathy for the Far East Guerillas. The absolute majority of Russians, in Moscow and in the provinces, saw evidence of a general dislike for the police in Russia from this episode.[66] The Far East development, which flabbergasted the country, was an additional argument in favor of a healthy dose of skepticism toward the importance of public opinion data on the popularity of the two Russian leaders directly responsible for their police.

The ruling team now looks at the recent events and the country’s state of affairs much more seriously, and is ready for innovations in domestic and foreign policy in order to avert the collapse of the regime. However, being that the regime still wants to leave their political structure intact and does not seriously want to fight corruption, it is reasonable to ask whether these innovative actions are really a type of self-deception. This would be in addition to questioning whether the attempt to persuade Russian society that the Kremlin is able to modernize the country is actually their way of perpetuating their authoritarian regime. These questions are indeed serious because there have been many examples of such regimes that have actually achieved great economic progress. For this reason, Skolkovo is of special interest as a crucial experiment for the regime. Some experts in the West and in Russia believe that it is a radically new endeavor, a turning point in the Kremlin’s behavior; a move from the imitative to real actions for the solution of vital problems.

The Case of Skolkovo: The Russian Silicon Valley

The construction of a new science center is being undertaken in the small city of Skolkovo, located in the Moscow region. It is believed that this center will function as an “off shore” scientific institution. Having abandoned the hope of luring former Russian scholars from abroad, the organizers of the new center hope to recruit foreign scholars.[67] The government has appointed two scholarly chiefs to the project, both of whom are Noble prize winners: 80-year-old Russian Zhores Alferov, and American chemist Roger Kornberg. In order to persuade foreign scholars to come to this new institution, the government has suspended many Russian laws, which will cease to be valid in Skolkovo, including those about self-government, land codes, commercials, and regulations on immigration and property. In order to make the local police different from the typical police units in the country, Skolkovo will use enhanced testing procedures to recruit only the highest caliber of officer.[68] The government even changed the immigration laws in order to facilitate the arrival of foreign scholars and their life in the country.[69]

Skeptics presented many arguments to justify their beliefs that the project was mostly show- off business. They referred to numerous other programs initiated by the Kremlin and indicated that they nearly all ended in disaster. In their opinion, it is impossible to make progress in science by making an isolated oasis in the country.  The skeptics do not believe that the new center could change the mood of the scholarly community in Russia or significantly transform the status of science in the country. They do not believe that it is possible to protect the Russian “Silicon Valley” from corruption and from bureaucratic arbitrariness.[70] Medvedev’s visit to the real Silicon Valley in June 2010, and his negotiations with various American companies on their participation in the building of new scientific cities did not persuade the critics of the regime that the project was not about creating a “virtual Silicon Valley,” another show-off activity—even if it was very expensive—to be placed among Medvedev’s other pseudo-innovations.[71] Medvedev supposes that, in the best case scenario, even if the impact of new scientific research is not seen over the next few years, a project such as Skolkovo can change the state of Russian science and the economy in the long-term.


Even if we were to ignore a number of other negative developments in the country—the discouraging state of the army for example—the dismal forecast for science in Russia and the Kremlin’s weak attempts to improve it suggest that, for the foreseeable future, Russia will not be able to compete economically and militarily, not just with the members of the G-7, but also with many other countries belonging to the G-20. Russia will continue to claim an influential role in international politics, relying only on its ability to threaten Europe with cutting their gas supply, on the power to threaten the West with the dissemination of nuclear technology, and with the obstruction of Western policy at the Security Council.  It is quite unlikely that the current deeply anti-democratic regime will be able to undertake the genuine modernization of its society and secure true progress in technology and the economy, even if Moscow could persuade several Western companies to come to Russia now. At the same time, it is evident that the county’s internal problems intimidate the ruling elite so much that the Kremlin is prepared to soften many of its attitudes toward the West, even if the improvement of Russian-American relations undermines the ideological basis of the existing non-democratic order. The unprecedented mild reaction of Moscow to the arrest of Russian spies in the United States showed that the Russian leaders are indeed poised for some rapprochement with the United States. The controversy between the necessity for an authentic, and not a show-off modernization and progress in science, and the fear of democratization coupled with genuinely cordial relations with the West will be the fundamental conflicts within the Russian elite for the next historical period. Besides, this conflict has been an essential part of Russian history since the Peter the Great. The West will have to be shrewd in taking advantage of the new opportunities for cooperation with the current Russian leadership in order to avoid damaging the liberal tendencies in Russian society and inside the ruling elites.

2 комментария »

  1. Hi it was a good article that u wrote, we have a webiste which has articles on military strategic forecasting,Geopolitical intelligence and latest terrorism in world.

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    комментарий от sheokhanda — Август 17, 2010 @ 1:13 пп | Ответить

  2. Yet there is one more issue which is, I believe, strongly underestimated by the scholars. Fedaral Security Service (FSB) is very important for Russian science.
    The cases of Danilov, Sutiagin, Kaibishev, Korobeinichev and others are well known, but, i guess, there are tens of scary stories in any university. Definitely there are many in Perm universities. Even I was searched in Sheremetyevo airport, while flying to France, my mp3-player, memory stick and camera seized for FSB examination, while my fields are culture and urban planning (luckily I didn’t carry a laptop, I know a girl from Perm Medical Academy whose laptop has been searched by the FSB for several months). Do I need to say about physicists?
    FSB’s intervention has a number of impacts.
    First, scientist are actually afraid of being too active (especially internationally, but I know some cases when people prefer not to start a lab or a research facility in order not to mess up with the security issues).
    Second, most active have to flee eventually (thus one of our family friends recently moved to Holland, right from the criminal investigation).
    Third, the local «First Departments» (bodies overseeing national security in the universities) directly block international cooperation (recently a research lab in our university was banned to hold contract talks with foreigners).
    And finally all the small inconveniences (for instance, I know a research lab, corporate, however, who’s staff are banned to use email) together with the sense of fear (and weakness) form a cultural basis not compatible with the edge-cutting research.

    комментарий от Artem — Декабрь 2, 2010 @ 10:43 дп | Ответить

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