On June 9, 2017, a group of academicians and correspondent members published an open letter appealing to the Russian President Vladimir Putin, the Chairwoman of the Federal Council (upper chamber of the Russian Parliament) Valentina Matvienko, and Speaker of the Duma (lower chamber of the Parliament) Vyacheslav Volodin. In the letter, scientists described problems with the draft of a law about reorganizations of the Academy election procedures, submitted to the Duma on June 6, 2017, for consideration. The letter said:
It is completely unacceptable for the draft law to prohibit the Government of the Russian Federation from discussing more than three candidates for the post of President of the Russian Academy of Sciences. However, according to the draft law, elections can be held even if only one candidate is agreed on by the Government. These norms make our right to elect a President of the Russian Academy of Sciences a fiction, de facto replacing them with an appointment and make participation in the vote meaningless.
According to the current traditional procedure, candidates for the presidency of the Academy of Sciences are nominated by the Academy’s branches, and the vote takes place at the general Academy meeting. The winner must score at least 2/3 of the votes. The suggested draft bill said that the list of candidates from the academy’s offices should be sent “for approval” to the federal government. Three candidates will be selected there, from which academicians can choose the President. It will be enough for him to get more than 50% of the votes. The chosen head of the academy would then be approved by the Russian President.
The new draft was submitted to the Duma on June 6, 2017, by deputies from Putin’s United Russia Party, headed by the chairman of the Committee for Education and Science, the infamous Vyacheslav Nikonov, the grandson of Vyacheslav Molotov, Stalin’s Foreign Affairs’ Minister.
The Academy has already followed its traditional preparation to the election of the new President this year. Academician Vladimir Zakharov, a prominent physicist, explained: “Already five people have been proposed, the sixth is on the way. These are all respected, well-known scientists. It turns out that three of them will be removed from the elections, and it is not clear why.” He added that the authors of the bill had “an obvious desire to humiliate the Academy.” “Like, you play there in the elections, but we’ll decide anyway,” he says ironically.
Despite the protest of scientists, on June 23, 2017, the Duma approved the draft in its first reading without changes.