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Andrei Fursenko

Andrei Fursenko

A.Savin/Wikimedia Commons

Russia's Science Reform Czar on U.S. Sanctions List

As part of the U.S. government’s attempt to inflict a cost on Russia for annexing the Crimean Peninsula of Ukraine, the Treasury Department yesterday slapped sanctions on 16 Russian government officials, freezing their assets and making it a crime for U.S. citizens to engage in financial transactions with them. The official overseeing Russian President Vladimir Putin’s efforts to reform Russian science made the list.

Andrei Fursenko served as Russia’s science minister from 2004 to 2012, during which time he advocated reform of the Russian Academy of Sciences (RAS) and what he called in an interview with Science in 2010 a “greater integration between research and education.” The reform drive got under way in earnest last year—long after Fursenko left the ministry. It has included merging RAS with Russia’s medical and agricultural academies and creating a new agency to oversee the combined academies and their assets. Russian science watchers credit Fursenko, now an aide to Putin, as the key figure behind the reforms. He’s the “principal architect,” says one.

Fursenko’s connection to Putin goes back to the early 1990s, when the two St. Petersburg natives acquired dachas on Komsomol'skoye Lake that later became part of a gated community of luxury summer homes. Jokes about the “lake cooperative” have been circulating for years, says one Russian analyst.

Another member of the “cooperative” who landed on the sanctions list is Yuri Kovalchuk. Known as Putin’s “personal banker,” Kovalchuk, like Fursenko, trained as a physicist. They worked together at the Ioffe Physical Technical Institute in St. Petersburg, and both left the institute in 1991. Kovalchuk is now the chairman of the board and the biggest shareholder of Rossiya Bank—the only entity named to the Treasury’s sanctions list yesterday.