After letting Russian science languish for years, Vladimir Putin has started to pay more attention. At a meeting of the Council for Science and Education last month, the Russian president promised that science and innovation are now top priorities. The presidential election on 18 March is likely to extend Putin’s reign by another six years, but scientists inside and outside Russia wonder whether the country can reclaim its rich science legacy of Soviet times.
“Russia’s research system isn’t up-to-date any more,” says polymer physicist Alexei Khokhlov of Lomonosov State University, a vice-president of the Russian Academy of Sciences. “It needs a thorough overhaul — otherwise the promises are just words.”
After months of uncertainty, the Russian Academy of Sciences (RAS) here finally has a new leader. On Tuesday, Russian President Vladimir Putin approved physicist Alexander Sergeyev as the academy’s president for the next 5 years. Sergeyev has vowed to secure more money for Russian science and create a fund, through a new tax on fossil fuel company profits, for upgrading the country’s antiquated research infrastructure.
Sergeyev, director of the RAS Institute of Applied Physics in Nizhny Novgorod, may be best known abroad as head of the Russian team involved in the U.S.-based Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory. In Russia, he is highly respected by colleagues. “In any case, I can say that the academy is ready to team up around him,” Vladimir Fortov, former RAS president, told TASS news agency. “The Academy is on his side, and that’s the most important result today.”