MOSCOW — Russian scientists on Wednesday ridiculed a government plan to impose Soviet-style restrictions on their interactions with colleagues from around the world, such as seeking permission for meetings and submitting reports about each encounter with a foreign peer.
Russia’s Ministry of Science and Higher Education drafted the new recommendations in February and put them into effect right away, but they were not widely known until Tuesday, when Aleksandr L. Fradkov, a prominent scientist, denounced them in an open letter. Troitsky Variant, an independent science newspaper, published them.
The ministry instructed Russian scientists to ask permission to meet colleagues from abroad at least five days in advance, and to provide copies of the foreigners’ passports. It said that no Russian scientist should attend such a meeting alone — another Russian scientist should be present — and afterward the head of the Russian scientist’s institute should send a sealed report to the ministry with an “exhaustive account of the topics discussed.”
The guidelines also specified that Russian scientists would need their supervisors’ approval to meet foreign colleagues outside work. Foreign specialists faced restrictions, too. Under the rules, they would only be allowed to use electronic gadgets inside Russia’s scientific institutes if this was stipulated in “international agreements, signed by Russia,” according to the document.
Russian scientists scorned the new recommendations, saying that they could never be fulfilled. In his open letter, Dr. Fradkov wondered if he should ask his bosses for permission to “write an email, or use Skype to talk to a foreign colleague.”
“Should we take away cellphones, watches and other devices from a foreign scientist who was invited to deliver a report about his research?” asked Dr. Fradkov, who works at the Institute for Problems in Mechanical Engineering in St. Petersburg.
Mikhail S. Gelfand, a renowned Russian bioinformatics specialist, said in an interview that he will simply not follow the rules. The first person who tells him to ask permission for a meeting, and then report back on it, he said, “will be told to drop dead.”
“These rules will only work in case the state would want to terrorize someone,” he added. “They would tell him that he had violated the law by having a beer with some professor James the other day.”
The restrictions are called recommendations, but the heads of scientific institutes are required to take them into account, and institutes that work with secret material are required to incorporate the guidelines into their rules.
On Wednesday, the Kremlin downplayed the change. Dmitri S. Peskov, the spokesman, said he was not aware of the restrictions, but they “seem like an overkill.” He warned, however that “people should be vigilant.”
“Foreign special services do not sleep, of course,” said Mr. Peskov. “Nobody has canceled scientific and industrial espionage, it takes place 24 hours, seven days a week and it is targeted against our scientists, especially young ones.”
The science ministry said in a statement that its document is only “advisory in character and reflects worldwide practice,” intended primarily “to track the growth of international links.”
Many Russian scientists said that Russian science cannot exist, let alone develop, without vibrant interaction with the outside world.
“These recommendations are completely absurd and meaningless,” said Mikhail Patrakeev, a senior researcher at the Institute of Mathematics and Mechanics in Yekaterinburg.
The document surfaced at the time when Russia has embarked on an ambitious plan to become one of the top five scientific powers in leading fields.
“There are attempts to integrate Russian science internationally, foreign scientists are invited to the country, mega-grants are being distributed,” Dr. Gelfand said. “At the same time, other people are writing such recommendations, which can be a good way to employ security service retirees — they will sit in institutes and check whom did we have lunch with.”
Follow Ivan Nechepurenko on Twitter: @INechepurenko.
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