Staunton, November 30 – Espionage charges against Russian scholars are the tip of the iceberg of a much larger problem, Andrey Rostovtsev says, that involves an effort by the FSB to take control over financial flows in academic and other research institutions, the insertion of unqualified people to head these bodies, and the use of the FSB by such people to get their way.
In an interview published in today’s “Novyye izvestiya,” the co-founder of Dissernet, the Russian group that exposes fraudulent dissertations, says that relatively little is known about the spy charges because the government puts a “top secret” lid on them (newizv.ru/society/2015-11-30/231373-professor-osnovatel-proekta-dissernet-andrej-rostovcev.html).
But Rostovtsev says that he is certain that at least some of these cases have been fabricated as part of an effort by the FSB to gain control over these research and university centers or to assist directors of such institutions who are working with the security service and who may in some cases have sprung from its ranks to reinforce their power.
“The scientific sphere,” he continues, “is a reflection of what is taking place in society as a whole. The goal of the state system is survival and the strengthening of the power vertical, and exactly the same thing is taking place in the administrative part of the scientific community: it seeks to hold on and strengthen itself by broadening its authority … by any means.”
Sometimes collective protest works, but individual complaints almost never do because of the imbalance in power between the heads of institutes and individual scholars, Rostovtsev continues. Scholars abroad are “already tired of this and react quite sluggishly. More than that, Russia already for a long time hasn’t been among the leaders of international scholarly interest.”
Research institutions may have seen their budgets reduced this year, but they still constitute “an enormous resource,” one that the government and the heads of these institutions want to maintain and control. And the government is prepared to appoint people it can rely on even if they are “far from science.”
To do that, the officials sometimes have to push some scholars aside. In a relatively small number of cases, they have brought charges against them; but in “tens of thousands” of cases, they have used bureaucratic gamesmanship or other forms of pressure to push out those who won’t go along with what the regimes, academic and political, want.