MOSCOW--Russian President Boris Yeltsin yesterday resurrected his science ministry and appointed an engineer to spearhead a drive to reform Russian science. The ongoing Cabinet reorganization should give Russian scientists a stronger voice in the government.
Last August, Yeltsin downgraded Russia's Ministry for Science and Technology to a state committee. With less clout, the committee had little influence on science policy, says former Science Minister Boris Saltykov. Committee chief Vladimir Fortov--a physicist who has been Russia's most powerful science policy figure since last summer--will become the new science minister. Observers are happy to see the ministry restored. "I'm very glad that it finally happened," says Saltykov. "I hope that the ministry will regain its role as the strategic center of state science policy."
But Russian politics is never so simple. Yeltsin tapped Vladimir Bulgak, the communications minister in the old Cabinet, to overhaul Russian science. The view from Moscow is that Bulgak, a 56-year-old engineer who's relatively unknown to scientists, will be giving Fortov his marching orders. Fortov, in his half-year tenure as committee chief, was seen as having fought hardest for the Russian Academy of Sciences (RAS). "The only body which he tried to support was the RAS," asserts Saltykov, who tried to reduce the academy's influence while he was in office. Tens of thousands of nonacademy scientists are now hoping that Bulgak will take a similar line.