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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Top Scientists Reject Government Reform

In a rare show of disobedience, the Russian Academy of Sciences rejected on Wednesday a government reform that it said would destroy Russian science.

The academy's general assembly voted for a new charter that ignored suggestions proposed by the Education and Science Ministry in January.

The ministry had recommended that many of the academy's decisions be handed over to a supervisory board where government appointees would hold a 2-1 majority. The board would be made up of three academy members, three members of the government and a member from each the State Duma, the Federation Council and the presidential administration.

Academy members saw this as a state attempt to take control. "We are all fed up of this attack on the Russian Academy of Sciences," academy vice president Alexander Nekipelov said.

He said it would be better for the academy to close than accept the government charter.

The supervisory committee would control research, decide which scientific projects to pursue and distribute state funding. Currently, the academy is run by its the president, its presidiums and general assembly.

Explaining the academy's reluctance to have government officials on the supervisory board, academy spokeswoman Irina Presnyakova said, "Nobody knows what ties they would have to science."

Academy members voted almost unanimously for their version of the charter. Only one out of the academy's nearly 2,000 members voted against the charter. "I think he was joking," Presnyakova said.

Founded in 1724 by Peter the Great, the Russian Academy of Sciences has pioneered fundamental research for nearly three centuries. It managed to retain some degree of independence even in Soviet times, notably ignoring demands to expel dissident physicist Andrei Sakharov.

Members acknowledge that the battle may not be just for control over science. The government's proposal is part of a trend of increased state control over parts of society. Also at stake is control over the academy's expansive property portfolio, which includes prime real estate in Moscow and St. Petersburg.

The academy is mainly funded by the state, receiving 30.84 billion rubles ($1.7 billion) from the federal budget last year, Gazeta.ru reported. The amount accounted for 68 percent of the academy's budget, which included 1.73 billion rubles earned from renting out its properties.

The academy's decision Wednesday may mean deadlock, with a government official warning that the academy's alternative charter would not be accepted.

"The charter cannot be supported for lots of reasons," Deputy Education and Science Minister Dmitry Livanov said, RIA-Novosti reported. "Since the document does not agree with a key ministerial [document], it will be returned for reworking and the approval of the Russian Academy of Sciences."

If the state rejects the charter, a general assembly will have to be called again -- a process that will take at least four months, Nekipelov said. The stalemate could in theory go on indefinitely.