Headquarters of the Russian Academy of Sciences in Moscow.

Nikita Jukov/Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

After upheaval, Russian Academy of Sciences gets new leader

MOSCOW—After months of uncertainty, the Russian Academy of Sciences (RAS) here finally has a new leader. On Tuesday, Russian President Vladimir Putin approved physicist Alexander Sergeyev as the academy’s president for the next 5 years. Sergeyev has vowed to secure more money for Russian science and create a fund, through a new tax on fossil fuel company profits, for upgrading the country’s antiquated research infrastructure.

Sergeyev, director of the RAS Institute of Applied Physics in Nizhny Novgorod, may be best known abroad as head of the Russian team involved in the U.S.-based Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory. In Russia, he is highly respected by colleagues. “In any case, I can say that the academy is ready to team up around him,” Vladimir Fortov, former RAS president, told TASS news agency. “The Academy is on his side, and that’s the most important result today.”

Sergeyev campaigned for the RAS presidency on a 100-page manifesto that seeks to walk back wildly unpopular reforms of Russia’s top science body, which includes more than 700 research organizations. Under this reform, RAS merged with two other academies—the medical and agricultural sciences—and lost control over buildings and other property which was handed over to the new government body, the Federal Agency of Scientific Organizations. “The academy must be given the function of scientific and organizational governance over the academic institutions, including the issues of the distribution of funds, sharing the budget for the basic research and, at the same time, more responsibility for the result,” Sergeyev said on the eve of the RAS presidential elections on Monday. 

The academy presidency has been vacant since this past March, when all three scientists vying for the position withdrew their candidacies. The official explanation was that the RAS charter was not clear about the rules for electing a new academy president. Over the summer, Russia’s lower house of parliament passed a law revising the election procedures, and most importantly giving Russia’s president the ultimate say in approving an academy president. In anointing Sergeyev yesterday, Putin directed him to be a team player if he wants to fulfill his campaign pledges. “I hope that together we will be able to think about how to organize this work,” Putin said.