He should stimulate us—that’s OK. We have well-recognized scientific schools and our younger generation is very talented, but things could change. We have already created good results and I’m optimistic we can do more, but the ideas of some of these so-called “reformers” can be very painful for actual science.
Some Russian lawmakers are saying scientists should just worry less about property and let the government handle your affairs.
You’re right. But the main concern we have is that bureaucrats just want to control our property with no real argument as to why and how they would do this.
Do you think this turmoil will play a role in younger scientists heading West instead of staying in Russia, or in international collaboration?
This is a challenge. We must continue with international cooperation; it is essential for us. As for the brain drain, it will depend on how the situation develops. Young people now are very concerned about the future of science and our academy. Our goal is to stop this brain drain and develop real international collaboration.
Russian lawmakers have claimed that part of the problem is that your scientists are building elite homes on academy property, which is part of why they want to take it over. Is that true?
It’s not true at all. I’ll give you the numbers. The Russian Academy of Sciences has extra properties that we rent out; this is about 7 percent of all of our properties. As a result of this renting, we get about two billion extra rubles [about $59 million] a year for research. Our entire fund is more than 60 billion [about $1.8 billion]. This is a very low percentage and is not a real problem. Our real problem is that the government bureaucracy is getting stronger and stronger and it can kill scientific development. We do not have enough equipment for research, and what we have is getting old. We have a similar problem with the average age of our scientists. For scientists, these problems are much more important. When our critics keep talking about real estate, it shows that what they are interested in is property, not science.
The Academy has been around for centuries. Is this idea of more government control something new in its history?
No, there have been two moments in history when we were under threat as we’ve been now. Just after the revolution [the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917], some party leaders decided they wanted to put a “Red Academy” in its place, getting rid of the historical model. Lenin stopped them. The second time was [during the Cold War] when Nikita Khrushchev tried to take away about half of the academies institutions but, again, this did not go through.
Are scientists feeling intimidated? I just saw on the Russian news that police raided the basement of your primary building in Moscow this morning, allegedly to root out illegal immigrants. What is going on here?
Yes, there was an “effort” this morning. But they didn’t find anything. I don’t know what to say about intimidation. This is very fresh information for me and I haven’t had time to analyze it yet.