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Russia: Academy Of Sciences Orders All Foreign Contacts Reported

  • Sophie Lambroschini

Russia's Academy of Sciences has recently issued a directive to its scientists to report all contacts with foreigners. The academy calls the order "routine," but some see it as a return to Soviet-style police methods. RFE/RL Moscow correspondent Sophie Lambroschini reports.

Moscow, 31 May 2001 (RFE/RL) -- Russia's Academy of Sciences is the country's most respected scientific institution. So when it issued a directive a week ago (24 May) ordering laboratories and scientists to report all their foreign contacts, it set off alarm bells in the country's scientific community.

The directive ordered the heads of laboratories and research groups throughout Russia to inform the academy's foreign-affairs department by tomorrow (1 June) of any grants, international cooperation agreements, or visits to facilities by foreigners they may have organized.

Some observers see the order as a return to Soviet-style police methods. But the academy's acting press secretary, Igor Milovidov, told our correspondent today that the academy felt "indignant" about any such interpretation of the order. Milovidov said he did not "see any spy mania behind it" and that such directives are routine.

"It's a routine, trivial report on activities. After trips, we always had to give reports. And a laboratory reports when it does some kind of cooperation work [with scientists abroad]. [Why] the directive? Well, probably it's just a reminder. People forget." Human rights campaigner and Duma deputy Sergey Kovalyov presented the document to reporters in Moscow yesterday. He said the directive showed that Russia was "becoming a police state, [a] country where the KGB has taken power."

In Moscow today, where he visited the Russian branch of the Open Society Institute he founded, philanthropist George Soros described the directive as "reminiscent of Soviet times."

Deputy Prime Minister Valentina Matviyenko denies any knowledge of the directive. She said today that Kovalyov's information was "incorrect."

The document lists a series of measures under the title "the Academy of Sciences' action plan to avoid any harm to the Russian state in the sphere of economic and scientific cooperation." It orders the academy's departments and heads of research institutes to "carry out an analysis of international agreements signed by scientific bodies in order to [prevent] the transmission abroad of information concerning national security."

The directive calls for "strengthening controls on scientific papers under preparation and on the exchange of information with foreign countries [in order] not to permit the publication abroad of unauthorized information." It also decrees "permanent controls over the trips abroad of scientists who have access to state secrets." Academy spokesman Milovidov said that he couldn't comment on details of the directive since he had not seen it.

Since President Vladimir Putin -- himself a former intelligence agent -- came to power at the start of last year, Russian authorities have been increasingly suspicious of espionage among both foreign residents and Russian scientists.

In December, U.S. businessman Edmond Pope was convicted of espionage after he made contacts with Russian scientists, allegedly to buy secret documents about a new Russian underwater torpedo. He was sentenced to 20 years in prison, but was soon pardoned by Putin and allowed to return to his home in the United States.

Igor Sutyagin, an arms expert who worked at Russia's non-governmental U.S.A. and Canada Institute, is now standing trial on espionage charges for allegedly passing secrets about nuclear submarines to the United States and Britain.