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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Academy to 'Control' Scientists

In an eery revival of Iron Curtain practices, the Academy of Sciences has ordered "constant control" over scientists' cooperation with foreigners, citing the need to prevent espionage, a lawmaker said.

The directive by the academy's presidium, or governing council, was made public by parliament deputy and human rights advocate Sergei Kovalyov. It was being sent to all research institutes that are members of the academy, Kovalyov said Thursday.

The vast majority of Russia's scientific establishments are part of the Academy of Sciences system.

The directive orders the academy's "special departments" and the directors of research institutes to "carry out constant control over trips abroad by Academy of Sciences researchers who have access to state secrets," to increase control over international scientific conferences in Russia, and to "tighten control over researchers' filing of reports about their trips abroad."

The orders come amid a spate of high-profile spy cases and fears that the secret services have begun to reestablish Soviet-era restrictions on foreign contacts since President Vladimir Putin, a 16-year KGB veteran, came to power.

Russian arms control researcher Igor Sutyagin is on trial on charges of spying for the United States and physicist Valentin Danilov is accused of spying for China. Sutyagin and his colleagues say he had no access to secrets and therefore could not be a spy. Sutyagin works at the respected U.S.A. and Canada Institute, part of the Academy of Sciences system.

"What seems dangerous to me is that this directive is quite in line with today's Kremlin policy," Kovalyov said on Ekho Moskvy radio Thursday.

The vaguely phrased directive lists no specific measures for the tightening of control, and does not specify punishment for failure to comply.

But the orders have already prompted at least one research institute in Moscow, the Institute for General Genetics, to issue a memo to its scientists ordering them to report to their supervisors all contacts with foreign colleagues. The memo, also made public by Kovalyov, was published by Russian news media.

Deputy Prime Minister Valentina Matviyenko on Thursday tried to dispute Kovalyov's statements. "I respect Sergei Kovalyov, but unfortunately he sometimes uses information that is not quite reliable," Matviyenko was quoted as saying in Russian news reports. "In this case, too, his statement is groundless."

But deputy director of the Genetics Institute, Ilya Zakharov, confirmed in a telephone interview that he had issued the memo, which was read to him by an Associated Press reporter. He declined further comment, saying the document was "stolen" from the institute.

Zakharov would not say what punishment would be envisaged for researchers who fail to comply.

"I think the Academy of Sciences will tell us that," he said.