TRANSCRIPT: [Putin] Meeting with Vladimir Fortov and Mikhail Kotyukov

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( – June 14, 2016)

Vladimir Putin met with President of the Russian Academy of Sciences (RAS) Vladimir Fortov and Director of the Federal Agency for Scientific Organisations (FASO) Mikhail Kotyukov.

President of Russia Vladimir Putin: Mr Fortov, Mr Kotyukov. We have met to talk about the coordination of efforts between the Academy of Sciences and FASO, about your achievements and problems, if any, on which we should focus. And then, we need to discuss the upcoming elections to the Academy of Sciences.

President of the Russian Academy of Sciences Vladimir Fortov: Mr President, thank you for finding the time to meet with us. Please accept one more recently published book as a gift.

There are two bookmarks inside, one marking the development of our civilization and the other the theory of population growth. There are various views on these issues, and this is why I have written this book jointly with Sergei Kapitsa.

Vladimir Putin: Thank you very much.

So, who will be the first to speak?

Vladimir Fortov: Mr President, the situation is like this. Two and a half years of reform have passed. This is both the time that has elapsed and the (jail) term served, as [famous comic writer] Zhvanetsky says. We need to sum up some results and see what in fact we have achieved.

I believe that we have managed to do a great deal. Our main achievement is that we have set in motion your instructions on implementing reforms smoothly. This was difficult to do, because ongoing reforms are the largest and most difficult in the academy’s history. I believe that we have succeeded so far.

Our task today is to demonstrate the benefits of this reform for researcher, an expert. This is not an easy task. I would also point out, as a positive aspect, that we have merged three academies, and we managed to do this without conflict.

Vladimir Putin: That is very good.

Vladimir Fortov: Few had believed that was even possible.

Vladimir Putin: We did have concerns.

Vladimir Fortov: I did too. Anyway, we have crossed that bridge. We have reached understanding.

Today we are working on the merger. We have held our annual meeting devoted to pharmaceuticals. Now we are preparing the annual meeting of the Academy of Sciences, planned for this October. It will be devoted to agriculture.

We have initiated a series of projects, according to your instructions. These include projects on the North, medical projects, mathematical modelling projects and defence projects. These are additional projects, apart from our regular work.

The programme on physics in medicine is almost ready. In our opinion, it is a very interesting programme. Again, it brings together at least two major former Academies. Another programme ready to go on stream is devoted to agriculture. We would like to discuss it separately, when you have the time, because there is much to consider and decide how to organise it best.

Yet, I would be lying if I told you that we have everything running smoothly, without a hitch. There is the never-ending problem hampering the reform, the one you mentioned at the beginning – the delineation of competencies. The dual key system, remember?

Today, we have fulfilled almost everything documented in the law on the reform. We have adopted a new charter, merged the two academies, as I said, and are resisting, with your help, the privatisation of research institutions. This is a challenge.

Nevertheless, there are some problems. I could list them now. I am not prepared to discuss them, or rather, I am ready, but this would hardly do any good. The problem, again, lies in the delineation of powers.

Whereas previously, the dual key rule worked well enough and never took more than six months, now we believe in the Academy – it is something we agreed on at the general meeting in March – that we need to do much more to actually delineate the competencies. Only then will we have an effective mechanism for the advancement of science, rather than the conflicts that emerge. Perhaps they are inevitable, but we do not think we should allow this.

In addition, I would like to update you on preparations for the general meeting, which will be held in October to discuss the upcoming elections. As per your instructions, I would like to report on the new element, which is the title of RAS Professor. We have granted the title to about 500 young doctors of science, and we have immediately seen the benefits of this. They have boosted our dynamics. As for elections, the selection deadline is past, and we have very many candidates – three or four per vacancy. This is a lot, and this is taking into account the new age limit, which I have told you about and will talk about again later.

As I said, we have held one general meeting to discuss our performance last year. We summed up the results and prepared a report for the President and the Government, which I have brought for you. The first part of the report covers the current situation in research and includes financing recommendations. This rule has been formalised as a law; it is our duty and our second important achievement to date. But it is also a problem.

In addition, I would like to tell you about the projects we would like to single out from this long list. Speaking about the first part [of the report], we can see that our structure resembles a pyramid. The Government allocates 70 percent of funds for fundamental research and the rest is provided by business. The pyramid is inverted in other countries, unlike in Russia.

I believe that the task of our scientific community is to invert our pyramid. This will be difficult to accomplish, because there are no general rules. What goes well in the United States cannot be applied in Japan, France or Germany. This is the set of issues I wanted to discuss.

Vladimir Putin: Mr Kotyukov, go ahead, please.

Director of the Federal Agency for Scientific Organisations Mikhail Kotyukov: Mr President, it is true that Mr Fortov and I can come to an agreement on all the key issues. We have put on paper all issues related to the division of competencies. We have in fact accomplished it this year.

Our next task is to turn these documents into effective working instruments for our [FASO] staff and also the RAS Presidium, so that we comply with these documents. They cover all the key issues in great detail, including responsibilities, deadlines, and the decisions that should be made.

The development of human resources in research and rational use of research infrastructure have always been our common tasks. It can be said regarding these two aspects that we have organised the election of directors of scientific organisations.

A law on age qualifications has been adopted. Many feared that we would not find enough candidates. I can tell you that over 170 institutes have held elections based on this principle, and the people have made their choice.

Vladimir Putin: The elections of institute directors?

Mikhail Kotyukov: Yes, and the staff had the final say.

I can say that our largest institutes have elected directors aged under 50. We now have a huge human potential, at least in this sphere. I believe we can continue working jointly on this.

Another important trend is the growing number of young researchers. Figures vary from one sphere of research to another, but young researchers account for up to 50 percent in chemistry, technology, metallurgy, materials science and aerodynamics, which means we have laid the groundwork for the future technological development in these key areas.

Thanks to Government support, the average monthly salary of our research staff was some 48 percent larger than the general average in a given region in 2015. It should be said that we have not completed this work yet. Only 250 organisations have reached the figures set out in the roadmaps, while the rest still have to work on this. We will tell you about some of our proposals. We have coordinated our policies.

Another major issue concerns research infrastructure. We have been working on this jointly with members of the Russian Academy of Sciences. We have inventoried all research equipment, including unique instruments and devices, and compiled a list of these. We have found organisational solutions for doubling access to these instruments. It often happened in the past that some institute had unique equipment but researchers from other institutes had limited access to it.

One of the best examples is our research fleet. You know, there were many difficulties in the past. Thank you for giving the instructions to…

Vladimir Putin: … to use it as directed in this difficult situation.

Mikhail Kotyukov: We have worked together with the Academy of Sciences to develop major proposals for a collective use centre, effectively optimising resources. The Government supported our request and allocated additional funds, so now I can say that an integrated expedition programme to work on these research vessels has been prepared, for the first time in years. Today we have started its practical implementation.

I can say that only in the last two years, the number of publications produced through the use of this unique equipment more than doubled in our system.

Vladimir Putin: I will take a look.

Mikhail Kotyukov: Restructuring is a difficult process. We took enough time to prepare for it, and we are making every step together, carefully studying each project. Today we can say that, only in the last year, from June to June, the number of organisations that get actively involved in this process, has doubled, reaching 40 percent of the total number of institutions that we are responsible for.

Fifteen new centres have been created that are capable of generating significant scientific potential, including in the areas mentioned by Mr Fortov: medicine, agriculture, defence and security.

Let me give you some examples. We were able to bring together at the Institute of Plant Industry the unique collection of genetic plant resources that was started by Nikolai Vavilov himself. This collection – the world’s fourth, maybe even third in terms of volume according to various estimates – had been scattered across a dozen different organisations. Now we are conducting an inventory, evaluating its condition. This is a great stride forward in agriculture research.

In addition to the processes related to the direct merger of several institutions, our scientists have identified several areas of cooperation and interaction. Colleagues from different institutes, and even from different regions, are combining efforts to increase their overall research capacity by sharing competences and to find customers faster for the subsequent application of their results.

Such integrated research plans do not require additional funding. All we have to do is arrange a platform for their discussions. I can say that today the process is being managed by members of the Russian Academy of Sciences; our institutes and universities got involved after showing real interest in the non-financial sectors of the economy, such as materials science, robotic technology in medicine, the development of healthcare and energy.

The plans outlined by Mr Fortov have led to several fundamental science programmes that are likely to generate the groundwork for much needed projects in medicine, agriculture, defence and security. We have specific examples.

Vladimir Putin: Ready to be translated into applied research?

Mikhail Kotyukov: Actually, yes, Mr President. We are taking the unique opportunity provided by the reform, which brought together the most advanced fundamental science capacity, the clinical facilities formerly reserved for the Academy of Medical Sciences, and the agricultural resources, previously managed by branches of the Academy of Agricultural Sciences.

By working together, we have been able to achieve tangible results in just two and a half years. While earlier interdepartmental barriers could greatly interfere with the practical application of research results, today we can make our first steps in our new system, and only then, having fine-tuned the initial projects, move on to negotiate with outside customers.

[featured image is file photo]