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Meeting of the Presidential Council for Science and Education

December 8, 2014, St Petersburg

The President took part in a meeting of the Presidential Council for Science and Education on transformations in fundamental research conducted by the Russian Academy of Sciences organisations.

The meeting took place at the State Hermitage, one of the world’s biggest historical and cultural museums, which is currently celebrating its 250th anniversary.

* * *

President of Russia Vladimir Putin: Good afternoon, colleagues.

Today, the Council for Science and Education is meeting in one of the best museums in the world, though I imagine Mr Piotrovsky [Director of the State Hermitage] would probably call it the best, and we would agree with him.

The Hermitage celebrated its 250th anniversary yesterday, and on behalf of all of us, Mr Piotrovsky, on behalf of the Council members, let me congratulate you and all of the Hermitage’s staff. I will have the chance to say more later, but here at this meeting now I also want to congratulate you on this anniversary and thank you for giving us the opportunity to meet and work in such a wonderful, beautiful setting. 

I want to start by saying that both culture and science have for centuries been symbols of our national success and pride, symbols of what we could call Russia’s greatness. Our big task now is not just to preserve but also to build on and multiply our achievements. Today, we will discuss the continued development of our country’s academic science and the tasks that I set for research teams in the Address to the Federal Assembly. 

It was more than a year ago now that we started transforming the Russian Academy of Sciences. Our basic premise was that Russia needs strong and competitive science that can set new directions in scientific thought, ensure our country’s technological independence and sovereignty, and help to improve the quality of life.

This was why we took measures to strengthen and develop research infrastructure and offer our scientists and research teams modern and competitive working conditions. We have united the intellectual potential and the human and material resources of our main academies – the Russian Academy of Sciences, Academy of Medical Sciences and Academy of Agricultural Sciences.

Our aim was to set and develop our country’s science and technology policy and provide expert evaluation of state programmes and projects and consulting for the government authorities. The Russian Academy of Sciences now must make full use of the broader powers it has received. We have established more flexible and convenient mechanisms for financing science. The Russian Scientific Fund offers a new instrument for providing grant support for science.

We have conducted a thorough stocktaking of assets. Nothing has been lost; on the contrary, some facilities have been returned to the institutes’ ownership. I note that when the Council for Science and Education met a year ago, the Russian Academy of Sciences asked for a one-year moratorium on transactions involving its institutes’ assets.

I met with Mr Fortov [President of the Russian Academy of Sciences] just recently, and he thinks it necessary to keep this moratorium in place. I agree and we will do this, keep in place for another year the moratorium on taking scientific institutions out from under the Federal Agency for Scientific Organisations’ oversight. I ask the Agency to ensure reliable protection of property and resources and make sure they remain there for the scientists to use.

We are continuing to improve the science management system too, giving research teams and institutes greater powers, including the power to choose their own directors. We have put in place conditions to encourage promising young professionals into management positions. At the same time, we also take care to keep traditions going and ensure that influential and experienced scientists will be in charge of research institutes. This system is operating now in our universities.

I ask the Federal Agency for Scientific Organisations and the Russian Academy of Sciences to pay utmost attention to training the personnel pool and ensuring that candidates for senior management posts have high professional and scientific standards. This work must be on-going.

Colleagues, the circumstances that Russia finds itself in today confirm in full that we have been right in our efforts to strengthen our country’s scientific potential. Let me say again that fundamental science and the projects and results it produces are extremely important resources for developing our country and we must make effective use of them.

We face some challenges today. I will not dwell on this now. This affects our cooperation in various areas and directly concerns you too in terms of restrictions now in place on some types of advanced technology transferrals to our country.

This is not a good thing, but at the same time, we could turn it into an opportunity. It was easier to simply buy something abroad, but now we will have to invest funds and create what we need ourselves. I realise that this is not easy, it’s a difficult task, but in the current situation it does offer a clear advantage in that it gives us a powerful impetus for our own scientific and technological development.

I ask the Government to work with the scientific and academic communities and business associations to identify quickly the critical areas for import substitution, as I said in the Address [to the Federal Assembly], the areas where import replacement makes sense and is necessary. We need to have a clear picture of what technology we should develop in priority and how to get it quickly into use in real production. These kinds of projects already exist and we could make use of the work already done here.

At the same time, we should not just blindly copy foreign work. Our engineers and designers should come up with their original, ‘nonlinear’ solutions to the problems facing our economy and industry.

Moreover, in the Address to the Federal Assembly, I said that we must not work only on current problems. We must start looking for solutions to tomorrow’s problems today. Here, I feel academic science has a special role. I stress that in spite of current difficulties, we will not reduce the volume of financing for science.

Let me remind you that the overall volume of financing for basic scientific research through 2020 is over 834 billion rubles [over $15.6 billion]. This is serious money and it needs to be put to maximum use, with maximum impact for the nation. I feel that this programme requires some additions and adjustments, taking into account long-term priorities in the nation’s scientific and technological development. I would like you to determine those priorities.

I also want to note that in science, especially in basic research, a great deal depends on the specific researcher or research team. Scientific research can often lead to the most incredible discoveries.

You know better than me that this has happened many times in the history of science. At the same time, we should not focus only on the opportunities and interests of specific researchers or institutions, and not only on what we know how to do today, but also on the challenges that our nation will face in the future, over the course of the next several decades.

Interdisciplinary studies should become a highly important direction in the work of academic institutes, and the basic opportunities should be created to do so. Now we need to make the necessary structural changes among research institutes and the main goal is not to allow for a mechanical merger.

It is critically important to create effective, capable research teams. We must treat with great care the work done over the course of many years. It is imperative to fastidiously consider suggestions from the research organisations themselves, determining common approaches to reforms, including broadening the Russian Academy of Sciences’ participation in decision-making on questions of institutes’ scientific activities. I believe that the Science Coordination Council of the Federal Agency for Scientific Organisations should play a major role as well.

At the same time, reform is objectively overdue, and indeed, it is underway. Therefore, we cannot delay urgent decisions until later. We need to pull together intellectual resources and scientific infrastructure, strengthen collaboration between scientists at the junction of individual disciplines where breakthrough developments and discoveries are born.

Even now, we are creating technologies that will change the world, the nature of the economy and the lifestyles of millions of people, if not billions. In 3 to 5 years, they will enter the global market, and by 2030, they will become a daily occurrence, like today’s computer technologies. And we must be leaders in these processes. Not consumers, or not just consumers, but global suppliers of products in the new technological order.

The Address to the Federal Assembly announced the launch of the National Technology Initiative. It must unite our scientists, leading universities, research centres, project teams and our compatriots working in high-tech industries abroad. I ask the Russian Academy of Sciences and the RAS Presidium to actively participate in the development of the National Technology Initiative, and I ask for research institutes to get involved in its implementation.

Let’s get to work.


Vladimir Putin: First, a note that is, shall we say, not so radical, not significant, and not related to the transformations in the Academy of Sciences, but which concerns our lives today. It concerns import substitution and eliminating customs duties and even the VAT for certain goods.

I want to make clear that when I often talk about import substitution, I always specify that it concerns cases where this substitution is appropriate. Regardless of who might want to create difficulties around us, and how, it is impossible to close off everything in the modern world, especially if the nation in question is open to the world; it is totally impossible. This means we do not need to substitute all imports. Can we grow bananas? Yes. But should we? No, because they would be expensive, and we can certainly buy bananas somewhere else.

I want this to be clear when we identify our priorities. They should be identified not based on the principle of import substitution but on the principle of what exactly we need, what is promising and necessary for developing science and, perhaps, in cases when we cannot get something anywhere else, unless we do it ourselves. But this certainly opens new opportunities for us, this is entirely clear, because even in defence, science today has grown enormously – the dual-purpose part was always there, but today it has grown greatly. This is clear to everyone.

As far as eliminating customs duties is concerned, previously, the motivation behind it was the fact that we were not producing something locally; and we need to upgrade the real production sectors and do it on a modern basis; our enterprises should be modern, effective and competitive. And everything seems to be right, but at the same time, practice shows that as soon as we eliminate customs on anything, the growth there stops immediately and everything simply closes down. Then, it becomes nearly impossible to restore even the feeble seedlings of those production operations. So the processes related to import substitution and external restrictions – and this is no exaggeration – have both advantages and disadvantages, and it is unclear which is more prevalent.

Now with regard to the discussion of what’s more important: science in the Academy of Sciences’ institutes or in universities. You know, it seems to me that this is not a serious debate; it’s not real, there is actually no debate here. It is obvious that in various nations, science was organised in different ways, and in our nation, science was initially concentrated primarily in the Academy of Sciences’ institutes, while the universities were always engaged in training personnel. However, it is also obvious that today, throughout the world, educational and scientific processes are growing closer, as does the inter-industry role of various activities. This is an obvious process.

Sad as it may sound, but we need to strike the happy medium using ‘manual’ mode, to unite without destroying anything. We will not, under any circumstances, destroy something that was built over the course of centuries without first creating something properly. But it is not only possible to bring the institutions closer together and complement one another; it is absolutely necessary to do so – carefully, without destroying anything, but only building up our capabilities. I hope that we will follow this path.


Now, about the idea that only defence-related studies are growing – this is not entirely true. These studies are growing, because this growth was provided for in a corresponding armament and research programmes. But given budgetary restrictions, even they are not growing as much as we had initially planned, and the growth is being reduced at the same rate as the growth for funding certain other directions.

Here is what I would like to point out. We are well aware of how the Academy of Sciences developed in the Soviet years. Nearly 90% of its work was related to defence in one way or another. But in the modern world, as I already said, and you know this much better than I do, the importance of the dual-purpose component has grown radically.

When we talk about certain production sectors that are now getting money from the defence order through 2020, I keep repeating the following. Just look, for example, at shipbuilding enterprises, or any others; they now have a large number of orders, but these orders will not last forever. The army and navy will be modernised; we can reconsider the capabilities now, but we will have to do it smoothly or analyse in advance how the capacities that we will create be used in the future. We must do the same in scientific research. Of course, this is not the same, but that should be the basic principle.

I want to point out that we are not reducing absolute values. The rates are not what we would like, but we will increase financing for science just as we had planned, in areas where it is expedient to do so and where it yields results. And we will do it through different approaches, both through direct financing and through grant support.

In this regard, of course, I want to once again say that the president of the Academy of Sciences’ suggestion on increasing monthly payments to its members, current members and associate members, will be supported.

Thank you for your attention. I wish you all the best.

December 8, 2014, St Petersburg