07MOSCOW1704, RUSSIAN SCIEN…

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Reference ID Created Released Classification Origin
07MOSCOW1704 2007-04-14 12:57 2011-08-30 01:44 CONFIDENTIAL Embassy Moscow
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DE RUEHMO #1704/01 1041257
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
P 141257Z APR 07
FM AMEMBASSY MOSCOW
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 9261
INFO RUEHRL/AMEMBASSY BERLIN 1922
RHEBAAA/DEPT OF ENERGY WASHDC
RUEAIIA/CIA WASHDC
RUEKJCS/SECDEF WASHDC
RHEHAAA/WHITE HOUSE WASHDC
RUCPDOC/DEPT OF COMMERCE WASHDC
RHEHNSC/NSC WASHDC

C O N F I D E N T I A L MOSCOW 001704 
 
SIPDIS 
 
SIPDIS 
 
STATE FOR EUR/RUS (GUHA), EUR/ACE, OES/STC (DAUGHARTY) 
OSTP FOR MARBURGER 
BERLIN FOR HAGEN 
 
E.O. 12958: DECL: 04/13/2017 
TAGS: KIPR KNNP KPAO TBIO PREL RS
SUBJECT: RUSSIAN SCIEN...
C O N F I D E N T I A L MOSCOW 001704 SIPDIS SIPDIS STATE FOR EUR/RUS (GUHA), EUR/ACE, OES/STC (DAUGHARTY) OSTP FOR MARBURGER BERLIN FOR HAGEN E.O. 12958: DECL: 04/13/2017 TAGS: KIPR KNNP KPAO TBIO PREL RS

Classified By: EST Counselor Daniel O'Grady. Reasons: 1.4 (d) 

1. (C) SUMMARY: In a luncheon meeting with EST April 10, Kurchatov Institute Director Mikhail Koval'chuk weighed in on issues ranging from Russia's proposed floating nuclear power stations to the power struggles between the Russian Academy of Sciences (RAS) and the Ministry of Education and Science (MES). Expansive and relaxed, making references from Lermontov to Chilean wine, Koval'chuk defied the stereotype of an ossified, impoverished post-Soviet scientist. Instead, he proudly cited his many roles: energetically spearheading the GOR-funded research into nanotechnology, overseeing an empire of 20 scientific institutes under the umbrella of the Kurchatov Institute, as well as heading the Russian Institute of Crystallography. 

2. (C) Flipping through his business cards, Koval'chuk passed us one with his title as the Secretary of President Putin's Council on Science and Technology. A native of St. Petersburg, Koval'chuk is one of Education and Science Minister Andrey Fursenko's closest science advisors, providing input on the GOR nanotechnology program and overall federal funding for science. Koval'chuk, an energetic 60, has also been a power player within the struggle to reform the RAS. In 2005, some speculated that he would replace RAS President Yury Osipov. However, RAS did not vote to elevate Koval'chuk from a Corresponding Member to a Full Member during the spring 2006 elections, and thus the RAS charter prevented Koval'chuk from being made the RAS President. Despite this apparent setback, Koval'chuk's high-visibility positions on the President's Science Council and as Director of the Institute of Crystallography and the Kurchatov behemoth guarantee his continuing role in shaping the direction of Russian science. Koval'chuk was joined at the lunch by Dr. Oleg Naraykin, Deputy Director of the Kurchatov Institute and a chair at the prestigious Bauman Technical University in Moscow. END SUMMARY. 

----------------- "Europe Needs Us" ----------------- 

3. (C) When asked what measures should be taken to attract more young researchers to science, Koval'chuk largely dismissed the much-lamented dearth of young talent in Russia. Recruiting and retaining young scientists has been simple, he asserted. He said the Kurchatov Institute has more than 30 university chairs on its staff, who continually identify and recruit the best and brightest from their universities. This has ensured an influx of young researchers. Once hired, they are likely to stay on. "Everything I want, everything I need, I can find here," Koval'chuk stated, adding that Moscow even has more restaurants than Paris or New York. In Soviet times, foreign travel presented a glamorous, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Now, he said, his young scientists are so blas about international travel and so content with their cosmopolitan living standards in Moscow that he struggles to get them to attend conferences abroad. "They are afraid they might lose their place in our labs if they are gone too long." 

4. (C) Nevertheless, Koval'chuk has built strong ties between his own Institute of Crystallography and the Kurchatov Institute and their European counterparts. The ranks of Soviet emigre scientists throughout European labs have provided ready-made links between Koval'chuk's staff and European researchers, he noted. He has worked assiduously to provide quasi-internships in these labs, particularly in Germany, with an eye towards increased cooperation in the coming decades. Koval'chuk remarked that European scientists and officials clamor to collaborate with his institutes, particularly regarding nanotechnology research. "The U.S. is far ahead of us separately," he said, referring to Russia and Europe. "But when we combine, we can overtake you." In Koval'chuk's view, the Europeans "need" the Russians to keep up with American scientists. Confident in his optimistic assessment, Koval'chuk predicted great results from the Russian-European relationship. 

5. (C) When asked why he focused his ties so intensely on Europe, Koval'chuk said with a shrug that it is largely a matter of convenience. "Two hours, and I'm in Frankfurt, and no jet lag," he stated. Additionally, he noted, the Schengen visa regime allows him to use the same visa throughout most of the European Union. Koval'chuk claimed that the Italian Ambassador to Russia had personally secured and delivered to him a multi-year, multi-entry Schengen visa. In contrast, Koval'chuk recounted the "hassles" he had encountered in obtaining an American visa, still smarting from the experience. He said he had not bothered to visit the United States in more than ten years. (NOTE
: We offered our assistance should he change his mind about U.S. travel. END NOTE.) 

--------------------- Potential Cooperation --------------------- 

6. (C) Koval'chuk indicated he would welcome increased cooperation with the United States. He said he would embrace a program that provided scientific connections similar to the internship system he has built for Kurchatov researchers in European institutes, noting that American labs also boast large numbers of Russian emigres. Koval'chuk said he views nuclear cooperation as a particularly promising sphere. Russia and the U.S. could combine their talents and go farther than they ever could on their own, he said. The Global Nuclear Energy Partnership is one appropriate initiative for improving nuclear technology, Koval'chuk said, but there should be others. For example, he said, Russia and the U.S. should collaborate on the concept of floating nuclear power plants, which Rosatom has put forward. Such plants are ideal for certain regions of the world, he argued, because in the event of regime instability, the plants could be removed. Therefore, they would accord both Russia and the U.S. significant leverage. Koval'chuk said that his unfortunate impression is that the United States has decided it has no interest in working jointly with Russia on building floating nuclear power plants. We demurred. We are still in the process of learning more about this Russian initiative, we noted, and no decisions have been made. 

----------------------- The Politics of Science ----------------------- 

7. (C) Koval'chuk said he believes science reform is both appropriate and overdue and noted his own personal ties to the RAS, of which his father-in-law is a member. Singling out Nobel Laureate Zhores Alferov, Koval'chuk claimed that many of the older Academicians have entered into business relationships that improperly use Academy property. Alferov, for instance, has ensured that his son operates restaurants and dining facilities on Academy property in St. Petersburg. Reluctant to lose these questionable sources of income, RAS officials have hid behind the shield of science's purity and nobility in fighting off the MES, Koval'chuk contended. He Koval'chuk shared the comment a RAS Vice President made to him a few years ago. Academicians, the VP claimed, had figured out that by saying nothing to protest government reforms, they would get nothing. By raising a huge outcry, however, they not only protected much of what they have, but could squeeze out concessions from the government in exchange for acquiescing to a few points. Former Deputy Minister Dmitriy Livanov, who championed the MES onslaught against RAS management, recently departed his post at the Ministry to become the Rector of the Institute for Metals and Special Alloys. When we observed that Livanov is young to head an institute, Koval'chuk said with a chuckle that this plum post had been "pre-paid" and insinuated that Livanov had been promised the Rectorship, as a quid pro quo for his vigorous attacks on the Academy. 

8. (C) Livanov was instrumental in the dissemination of a controversial draft charter, credited to the MES, that would drastically restructure the Academy's management. During its March meetings, the Academy rejected the MES version and approved its own, one that made no mention of reforms such as the proposed Supervisory Council. Media commentaries speculated that once the MES version of the charter was in place, Koval'chuk would be installed as the quasi-RAS President. Koval'chuk, with visible irritation, criticized his treatment by the press, brightening when he observed that the RAS charter has already been combed over by various Ministries, which have in turn informed the RAS of all the instances where the new charter does not comply with Russian law. Russian law also requires that the new charter be approved by the MES before June 1. Should Minister Fursenko not approve a charter, all federal funding for science will halt. Koval'chuk said that the RAS would be forced to compromise, much as the Russian Academy of Education recently did by enacting a charter that included a provision for a Supervisory Council. 

9. (C) Yet science reform should run both ways, Koval'chuk noted. Koval'chuk decried the corruption that is endemic in the budgetary process. In the early 1990s, he said, a scientist would approach the government and ask for a large scale grant. A Ministry official would offer one-tenth to carry out the project. Both the scientist and the official understood that the one-tenth funding would accomplish nothing, but some funds went to the scientist, some were pocketed by the official, and no real science was accomplished. Fursenko, Koval'chuk said, recognized the problem when he took office and has been slowly pruning the deadwood from the lower and middle ranks of the MES, a process Koval'chuk deemed "nearly complete." 

----------------- Onward and Upward ----------------- 

10. (C) COMMENT: Koval'chuk displayed a glimmer of schadenfreude at the quandary now engulfing the RAS leadership. Unlike many of the RAS Vice Presidents, Koval'chuk appears dynamic, forward-thinking and pragmatic. While the RAS has been consumed with internal strife, Koval'chuk has quietly and effectively expanded the Kurchatov Institute into a virtual empire of Russian nanotechnology. He has encouraged a steady stream of young researchers between European labs and Moscow. Koval'chuk, though slightly bitter about his recent treatment in the press -- none of which seemed particularly vitriolic to us -- has also managed to remain above the fray. This will serve him well should the Supervisory Council be created, as many predict will happen later this spring. Koval'chuk is arguably a natural choice to head the Council, which would provide him with yet another impressive business card to hand out. BURNS

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