The President of Russia's Academy of Sciences (RAS), Aleksander Sergeyev has tried to keep his organization on even keel during Russia's war with Ukraine. In his balancing act, he has tried to maintain research contacts with foreign scientists that has been hampered by boycotts and sanctions as well as by domestic pressures to cut ties with "unfriendly countries" including in the sciences. He has also warned of a severe brain drain should Russian scientists become convinced that the atmosphere is too repressive within the country.
On the other hand, Sergeyev pleaded with his colleagues not to bait the authorities and particularly in the media. If a member of the academy wanted to express a political viewpoint, he should express it personally, and not as a member of the academy.
Sergeyev's task was not made easier when the New York Times published an article reporting that some members of the academy planned to blackball supporters of the war in the recently concluded elections to the academy. This was only grist to the mill for conservatives, who charge that the academy has become a den of fifth-columnists and accuse Sergeyev of tacit assent to this process. Such a state of affairs, where the academy simultaneously claims autonomy from the state, and plays the role of opposition to the state is intolerable, when Russia is fighting for its life against the collective West.
A report on the Russian Academy of Science's efforts to avoid the fallout from the Ukraine invasion follows below:
The twin towers of the Russian Academy of Science (Source: Atomic-energy.ru)
Sergeyev's Attempts To Balance Between Scientific Independence And Pressure From The Authorities
Alexander Sergeyev came out strongly against severing scientific-cooperation ties with colleagues from countries designated as unfriendly by the Russian government:
"On no account should we proactively, following the slogans of various hotheads, severe relations with our colleagues in unfriendly countries. We understand everything, we understand the stance of authorities, ministries, even the of Academies of Sciences in some countries. However, connections between scientists, laboratories, and institutes must necessarily continue," stressed Sergeyev at the General Meeting of the Russian Academy of Sciences.
He continued: "in such difficult conditions it’s purely necessary to understand how to establish this cooperation, because, no matter what, the conflict in Ukraine will end in a settlement, and then the question of resuming these ties will emerge.”
This was especially true as the countries listed as unfriendly accounted for two thirds of scientific research and development expenditures. In contrast, the friendly countries represented only 18% of such expenditures.
Sergeyev warned of a major scientific brain drain from Russia actively encouraged by the collective West. It was necessary for the Russian government to counter this threat. But, the government that "scientists are attracted to places where they can do their job in an interesting way" otherwise Russian science would experience "losses, and very strong ones". Sergeyev reported that a number of countries had already passed measures to attract Russian scientists including the US and Finland. In other words, Sergeyev appeared to be warning the authorities not to come down hard on the scientists and make them feel uncomfortable because they had alternatives.
On the other hand, Sergeyev sought to head off trouble by urging RAS members to avoid indicating their RAS affiliation, when they publicly express a stance on civic matters. He explained that the academy is a state organization, and he therefore opposed the actions of those signing political petitions, who identified themselves as "Academician of the Russian Academy of Sciences”. He didn't oppose members taking a stance, but this should be done "solely in the capacity of a private person."
“Sign [the open letters] as a physicist, chemist, etc.," concluded Sergeyev, who urged his colleagues to refrain from insulting the authorities, because, in his opinion, one can only work with the authorities by reaching consensus. In addition, members should be aware of the danger of causing " enormous damage to the prestige of the RAS."
Finally, Sergeyev, responding to charges by Russian conservatives that liberals had rigged the recent voting in the RAS, proposed mandatory competition in the future. If there would be less than two candidates for an opening, the elections would be canceled and the opening would remain vacant.
Sergeyev claimed that such practices undermine the democracy of RAS elections, and "People may say: this is not an election, but an appointment. They might even continue this logic: since you don’t elect [RAS members] yourself, you [members of the RAS] will also be appointed by the authorities."
On the other side of the ledger, Sergeyev took satisfaction at the rejuvenation of RAS, as several dozens of candidates under 51 years old were elected. Increasing the number of professors would staunch the brain drain amongst promising young Russian scientists.
Aleksander Sergeyev (Source: Argumenti.ru)
Sergeyev's effort to steer a middle course, did not appease the conservatives and the arch conservative outlet Tsargrad.tv ran a sharp attack on the RAS by its columnist Andrei Samokhin titled "Collaborators over Lab Workers: Russian Science Is Captured by the Fifth Column." In the article, Samokhin claimed that with Sergeyev's consent, and particularly due to the machinations of his chief deputy Alexei Kokhlov, RAS became an institution of unpatriotic fat cats, where liberal mediocrities received advancement to the detriment of patriotic scientists. Such a situation could not be allowed to continue. Below are excerpts from Samokhin's attack piece on the academy:
Andrei Samokhin: RAS Has Become A Fifth Column Stronghold
"The election results to the Russian Academy of Sciences declared the other day and the very course of these elections raised many questions. Liberal-minded members of the Russian Academy of Sciences, under the auspices of its leadership, staged behind-the-scenes meddling to prevent patriotic scientists from becoming academicians and correspondent members. On the contrary, every effort was made to elect the signatories of the letter against the 'war with Ukraine', representatives of the ideological fifth column in the humanities. In the realities of open confrontation with the West, the situation with the academic rebellion to the state has become insufferable.
"The epilogue to the elections held at the Russian Academy of Sciences was the statement made by its President Alexander Sergeyev. The head of the Russian Academy of Sciences demanded that its members cease trying to defame the authorities in the media, while flaunting their status as members of the academy:
"'I urge all members of the Russian Academy of Sciences to refrain from insulting the authorities.'
"He added that he himself 'is not against the expression of civic engagement,' but there is no need, as they say, to drag the academy into this. The statement is more than relevant and, so to speak, 'balanced'. True, it is very late. Very much so.
"Science Is Rusting From The 'Golden Brains'
"When you stand at the entrance to the 'Golden Brains', as the skyscrapers of the Russian Academy of Sciences on Moscow's Lenin Avenue have long been nicknamed, cognitive dissonance often arises. On the one hand, there is an abundance of parked [Mercedes] G-wagons and other executive class cars, respectable gentlemen with expensive leather briefcases and model jackets, imposingly marching inside like owners. And on the other hand, on the same spot, there are elderly people of a 'scientific appearance' in modest clothing and battered shoulder bags, standing in line for a pass. This is an exact cross-section of our current science of the last two decades: at the top are the 'celestial' academics and the business and bureaucratic elite surrounding them (to the point of confusion), and below are ordinary scientists from the heartland, who continue to try to create domestic science on beggarly salaries. Most of the latter have long been uninterested in who will be elected in the next elections to the 'club of celestials.' They know that they will definitely not be chosen anywhere, as of course, they are not part of the 'right circles', do not hang out in the 'right' places and are unacquainted with the 'iconic' academic figures.
"For reference: in 1989 there were 323 academicians and 586 corresponding members in the USSR: one such scholar for every 316 thousand people. Today, there are already about a thousand academicians and more than 1,200 corresponding members in the RAS - one for every 70,000 Russian citizens...
"In Soviet times, the presidents of the Russian Academy of Sciences and many academicians were members of the Central Committee of the CPSU, had an official and very significant influence on the politics and economy of the country. Today, the RAS, almost like the Church, is 'separated from the state' (which the academy's leadership has been actively complaining about in recent years), but continues to exert 'subtle' influence in various areas, and this influence is by no means always salutary.
"It depends, of course, on those who behind the scenes steer the 'fluids' that skillfully travel downward through the entire scientific community through a network of correctly stationed people 'of their own'. If this were limited to various material and 'appointment' deals, it would be half the problem: nepotism is an indestructible thing in Russia. But it extends to ideology with politics, which in the current situation of total war with the West becomes dangerous.... the 'anti-war letter' was signed by a large number of domestic scientists (about 8 thousand) - including academicians, corresponding members, professors of the Russian Academy of Sciences.
"In the current elections, some of them have raised their academic status. For example, five became academicians: Leonid Aranovich, Alexey Gippius, Fazoil Ataullakhanov, Nikolai Rozanov, Mikhail Andreev. And there are as many as ten members. With considerable competition in the multi-level system of elections to the academy, such things do not happen 'just like that' - that is, according to objective scientific merits.
"For example, in the Department of Literary Studies, the world-class scientist Alexander Uzhankov, a doctor of philological sciences, professor, academician of the Academy of Russian Literature, a researcher of ancient Russian literature, has already 'been bumped' int elections. He made a startling discovery a few years ago, having established, through many years of research, the place, time and author who created our first literary work - 'The Song of Igor's Campaign'. The sensation, recognized by foreign colleagues, makes absolutely no impression on those who for years have been engaged in the secret distribution of quotas among the departments of the Russian Academy of Sciences. Priority is given to 'scientists' of certain views from certain scientific 'bushes' and with a certain recommendation. Even if they do not have a single monograph of their own, not a single theoretical systemic idea! The main thing is that they are part of the right 'network'.
"How To Make Dissidents Out Of Scientists?
"And what is this network? One employee of an academic institute in the humanities related with amazement (of course, incognito) that they had launched a letter from above with a protest against the Special Military Operation, explaining on the sly that the signature would facilitate and accelerate further 'scientific' advancement. Approximately as it used to be 'with joining the party.' And some quite apolitical people signed - that's what it has come to!
"It is not surprising that, according to the calculations of the 'Nezigar' Telegram channel, compiled using open sources, only five scientists (1.6%) from among the current candidates for academicians of the Russian Academy of Sciences supported the special operation in Ukraine, and 0.007% of the corresponding members. At the same time, 22% and 17%, respectively, spoke out publicly against it.
"It is important to clarify: this is by no means about all of our scientists and academicians: the vast majority of them are patriots and state supporters. We are talking about the current candidates selected during the formally transparent, but in fact intricately shadowy stages - from determining department quotas, submitting applications and voting by sections.
"Any honest scientist will confirm that the selection of candidates is often determined by 'agreements', and the outcome of the final vote in the academy depends on the unspoken 'recommendations' of people from the Presidium of the Russian Academy of Sciences. Such a main 'recommender' and behind-the-scenes 'conductor' of the current and previous elections (2019) is the Vice-President of the Russian Academy of Sciences Alexei Khokhlov, who has dual citizenship (Germany) and has all the signs of a 'foreign agent'. And the president of the academy always supports him."
Alexei Khokhlov (Source: Poisknews.ru)
"A formal scandal erupted in the last elections, when the 'Commission on Combating the Falsification of Scientific Research', created with the active participation of Khokhlov and with the support of Sergeyev, whose core was comprised of activists from Dissernet, who closely overlap with the defunct '[Alexei] Navalny’s Headquarters', had a direct impact on the elections in RAS, even without being its members.
"In these elections, they decided to act more subtly, but behind-the-scenes activity leaked out. For example, in the ugly attack that the liberal clan mounted on the Deputy President of the Russian Academy of Sciences Vladimir Ivanov, who ran for academician, and two more candidates from the department of agricultural sciences, since they are not from that 'clan'. At the same time, the President of the Russian Academy of Sciences and his other deputies preferred to remain silent. It is unsurprising that the academy's leadership has not yet expressed its position in relation to the uncompromising battle with Nazism in Ukraine and the confrontation with the collective West.
"Alexander Sergeyev, in his almost 4-hour speech (which one wag called 'a lullaby for academicians'), urged for example, the sanctions notwithstanding, that 'in no case' should ties with the foreign scientific community be broken. Proud that the Russian Academy of Sciences remained almost the only place in Russia where freedom of opinion and position reigns, however, he forbade the Vice-President of the Russian Academy of Sciences Irina Donnik, who formed an action to support animals in the war zones in the Luhansk Donetsk Peoples' Republic, to conduct it from the academy. Since, they say, this would require the general consent of all RAS members...
"America Is Interested
"What does it seemingly matter for the country if more or less liberals will sit in the Academy of Sciences? Who cares at all? Oh, don't tell!
"The New York Times devoted a separate article to the current elections in the Russian Academy of Sciences, in which it reported on a 'group of scientists - state backtabbers' who distributed lists in an attempt to 'prevent the election of their Russian colleagues to the Russian Academy of Sciences for political reasons, in particular for supporting the special operation carried out by Russia on Ukraine':
"'Three academic researchers — who were not identified because they risk job loss, imprisonment and their safety by publicly opposing the war — said in interviews that they helped create the list of those who supported the war to prevent them from being elected to the academy'.
"Yes, things currently aren't going so smoothly for these guys. For example, an attempt, by agreement of the head of the Department of Social Sciences, Andrei Smirnov, and Vice-President Khokhlov, failed to elect as corresponding members outright 'fifth-columnists' from the Institute of Philosophy of the Russian Academy of Sciences Ruben Apresyan, Andrei Prokofiev, Dmitry Ivanov, about whom, as well as about their ideological and sabotage activities within the institute, Tsargrad has written more than once.
"Because these figures were too exposed in the press, becoming toxic, they 'stood down' in the preliminary vote, as a result of which two accidental semi-anecdotal figures surfaced. Lora Ryskeldiev from the Crimea, who reproduces ideas, as well as Nadezhda Kasavina, a graduate of the Astrakhan Pedagogical Institute, who just two months ago, to the amazement of her colleagues, received the title of professor of the Russian Academy of Sciences without the slightest scientific achievement. That is if one doesn't count the organization of the photo exhibition 'Existence' (in cooperation with the Moscow government) with jeers for Christianity and the 'Immortal Regiment'.
"Of course, in addition to such characters, among the new 91 academicians and 211 new correspondent members, the majority are quite scientifically and scientifically-practically honored scientists, patriotic, working conscientiously. This is especially true in exact, medical and agricultural sciences. But, as they say, 'a little yeast affects the whole dough.' If only there would be a competent promotion technology. But one already exists. Pro-Western liberals have once again restocked the ranks of the Russian Academy of Sciences and, in Khokhlov's words, 'will constitute the strength of the Academy of Sciences...'
"The Academy of Sciences is a special institution. Since the time of Lomonosov and Shuvalov, it has served as Russia's think tank. It did not lose continuity under Soviet rule; moreover, it acquired new scope and weight. Now, parasitizing on past glory, the Russian Academy of Sciences has turned into an incomprehensible formation 'at the side' of the state. Wanting to be still self-governing and independent, but simultaneously opposing it! Moreover, it has become, to the shame of Russia, a mafia-corporate, liberal shop, one of the strongholds of the fifth column..."
Andrei Samokhin (Source: Tsargrad.tv)