President Vladimir Putin Blasts Russian Academy of Sciences Elections

By | November 30, 2016

On Wednesday, November 23, 2016, a meeting of the Council for Science and Education took place under the chairmanship of Russian President Vladimir Putin. A year ago, Putin asked the civil officials not to participate in the elections of the Russian Academy of Sciences (RAN), but not everyone followed the ban.

Elections to the Academy of Sciences were held on October 28, 2016. As a result, 176 scientists became academicians, and 323 scientists became corresponding members. This was largest scale elections in the history of the Academy. The idea of the new elections was to rejuvenate science. Approximately 25-30 government officials were “elected” (in reality, appointed) academicians and corresponding members.

President Putin was furious and demanded that Vladimir Fortov, President of the Russian Academy of Sciences (RAN),explain why government officials were elected academicians and corresponding members. The situation was very uncomfortable for Fortov. According to the new rules adopted a few years ago, his election as RAN President was approved by President Putin.

Russian President reminded Fortov that a year ago he asked his colleagues to refrain from participating in the RAN elections. The request was formalized in writing, and the election of government bureaucrats to RAN was an act of insubordination.

“Why did you do this? Are they prominent scientists, and without them, the Academy of Sciences can not manage? And what should I do I now?” – Putin asked Fortov.  Fortov stated that these persons “said that they had received permission from their supervisors.” Putin did not accept this response.

“Well then, are they prominent scientists?” – asked Putin. “It turns out that they are”, Fortov said, perplexed.

“I think I’ll have to give them the opportunity to do science, because, apparently, their scientific work is much more important than the performance of some routine administrative duties in government and administration,” – concluded President Putin.

A commentator, who from 1986 to 1991 worked with physicists at the RAN Presidium, wrote about the situation:

Several hundred such “doctors” [i.e., pseudo-doctors, the author calls them “Doctors of Putin’s Sciences” – V. B.], the most arrogant and greedy of them, decided to move further up the “ladder of scientific honors.” They have become academicians and corresponding members of the Academy. Putin, of course, became jealous. However, at any moment the Duma [Parliament] can give him the diploma of “the greatest genius of all time.”

Two high ranking security officers, now elected corresponding members, received Putin’s criticism. The first was Lt. General Vasily Khristoforov, head of the FSB Registration and Archival Collections Directorate (URAF). After graduating from Andropov KGB Institute in 1985, Khristoforov (b. 1954) served for three years as a member of the KGB Mission staff at the Security Organs of the Democratic Republic of Afghanistan. In 2002, he was promoted to Major General, and later, to Lt. General. In 2006, Khristoforov defended his Doctor of Jurisprudence dissertation and joined the staff of the RAN Institute of Russian History, while at the same time head of the FSB URAF. This Directorate has three main functions: 1) Maintaining the FSB archives; 2) Vetting visa applications and approving applications for Russian citizenship; 3) Participating in decisions on political rehabilitations.

Officially, Khristoforov has 98 publications that were cited 209 times; he himself lists 250 publications. An expert interviewed by correspondent of the Russian newspaper Novaya Gazeta, characterized Khristoforov’s publications the following way: “There were a lot of publications of documents from FSB archives, published by the respectable publishing house ROSSPEN, but one can’t assess the extent of his personal or institutional involvement. His participation in [Aleksandr] Danilov’s Dissertation Council [at Moscow State Pedagogical University or MGPU] looks depressing.“ This Dissertation Council was disbanded in 2013 because it became “a mill” that approved falsified dissertations. Eleven historians who defended their dissertation in this Council, chaired by Aleksandr Danilov, were deprived of scientific degrees after it was proven that texts of these dissertations were plagiarized.

The expert continued: “Khristoforov personally was a scientific supervisor of two false dissertations that were practically written of other dissertations–Ivan Yurievich Chaev defended for the second time a dissertation that had been written by Magomed Timov, and Maksim Kholodnyi for the second time defended a dissertation written by Nurdin Seedsmen in the MGPU ‘pseudo council.’” In both case, the texts were completely plagiarized.

Colonel General Aleksandr Savenkov, First Deputy Interior Affairs (MVD) Minister and the head of  the MVD Investigation Department, was the second member of the security services elected as a Corresponding Member to be criticized by Putin. From 2002 to 2006, he was Chief Military Prosecutor (and deputy of the Chief Prosecutor of the Russian Federation), then, from 2006 to 2014, he was First Deputy Minister of Justice of the Russia Federation. His scientific achievement consists of only 32 published articles, and only 16 of them are cited once in the literature. A criminal law expert commented: “He is supposedly a specialist in everything: in cybercrimes and crimes in the implementation of state defense orders. We can assume that he is ‘working on many machines’ [irons in many fires] with the active help of the staff.”

For comparison, the prominent physicist Ruslan Valiev, who has 673 publications and 28,952 citations of his papers, as well as being awarded the European Academy of Sciences Blaise Pascal Medal in 2011, was not elected a Corresponding Member.

Possibly, this is the first time siloviki have been awarded academician titles. The example of Yevgeny Primakov, who from 1991 to 1996 headed Russian the foreign intelligence service SVR, doesn’t count because he became an Academician in 1979, when he directed the Orientalism Institute within the Soviet Academy of Sciences, long before he was appointed SVR head.

The titles of Academician and Corresponding Member are given for a lifetime, and every month the lucky ones receive a bonus. Currently, an Academician receives 100.000 rubles ($1,562) per month just for having the title, and a Corresponding Member, 50,000 rubles ($781) per month.

On November 30, 2016 President Putin fired four governmental officials just elected to the Academy, including Generals Khristoforov and Savenkov. Formally, Khrisoforov was fired because “he reached the age limit for military service,” while Savenkov was resigned, although it was clearly a dismissal.

Following Putin’s example, Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev also fired a deputy Minister of Education Aleksei Lopatin, who was just elected an Academician.

Khristoforov’s position as head of the FSB URAF was especially important for historians since he administrates all FSB archives. In the past, Khristoforov made statements, for instance, on the fate of Raoul Wallenberg and his cell-mates and in September 2016 joined the meeting of the members of Raoul Wallenberg’s family and researchers with officials of the Russian Foreign Affairs Ministry in Moscow.

Given the role Putin has played over the past fifteen years in the hollowing out of the Russian Academy of Sciences, it’s unclear why he is upset about having some of his cronies elected to the Academy. Perhaps it is true that he is jealous?

Author: Vadim Birstein

Dr. Vadim J. Birstein is a historian and geneticist. He is the author of over 300 scientific papers and books and has written two scholarly historical works, "The Perversion of Knowledge: The True Story of Soviet Science" and "SMERSH, Stalin's Secret Weapon: Soviet Military Counterintelligence in WWII". He received the inaugural "St. Ermin's Intelligence Book Award" in 2012 for SMERSH.

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