Russia's Science Budget Diving Toward New Low

MOSCOW--Russian scientists received more gloomy news this week: The government has sent to parliament a 1999 budget that is unlikely to even keep pace with inflation next year and which amounts to a 70% cut when converted to dollars. Discussions about how to rescue Russian science dominated a workshop here earlier this week sponsored by the Russian Ministry of Science and the Paris-based Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). But the meeting produced no tangible strategy for reforming a beleaguered scientific community.

Russia's R&D budget has spiraled downward in the last decade, from $10 billion in 1990 to $1.83 billion in 1998. The Yeltsin Administration's budget submitted to the lower house of parliament, or Duma, last week would give science 11 billion rubles next year, at the present exchange rate about $520 million. Federal spending per researcher has dropped from $9000 in 1997 to $5000 in 1998--less than 4% of expenditures typical in the West. Such numbers will make it harder than ever for new Science Minister Mikhail Kirpichnikov to protect basic research.

At the meeting, Russian officials said the best hope for salvation is the development of high-tech industries. "This is the only way to pull Russia out of the crisis," says deputy science minister Gennady Tereshchenko, who says the ministry could lay the groundwork for such an industry. OECD's Michael Oborne, however, says he doubts that an industry could be born from "administrative measures." The OECD has estimated that getting such a sector on its feet would require a cash infusion of approximately $1 trillion. Bake sales and IMF loans are unlikely to do the trick.