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Russian scientists denounce ‘Soviet’ restrictions on meeting foreigners

MOSCOW: Russian scientists have denounced an “absurd” government decree that seeks to curb interactions with foreign colleagues — recommending they seek approval before meeting peers from abroad for even a cup of coffee.

A decree by the science and education ministry recently sent to Russian institutes requests that scientists should not meet their foreign counterparts one-on-one.

Meetings outside work time should be sanctioned and later described in a report, according to the directive.

Foreign scientists seeking to visit Russian institutions have to submit requests to enter well in advance and may face restrictions on using their phones or even watches in the buildings, the decree said.

The measures are “absurd and unrealistic,” said Alexander Fradkov, a professor of physics who heads a laboratory at Russia’s Institute of Problems of Mechanical Engineering and posted the decree and his complaints in an open letter Tuesday.

“What if we’re holding an international conference with many foreigners? Do we confiscate everyone’s watches and phones?” Fradkov wrote.

The measures “will not improve security of our country but will lead to increasing isolation of Russia from developed countries,” Fradkov wrote on Tuesday in Troitsky Variant, a science news publication.

Russia’s science ministry could not be reached for comment regarding the decree, which Fradkov said was received by his institute in July.

“All science is built on communication and exchange of information,” he told AFP. “If you go by the decree, then even having a cup of coffee with a foreign colleague requires a report afterwards.”

“It’s a return to Soviet times,” when scientists could not meet with a foreign colleague unless accompanied by a third party.

“I will not be able to work by these rules,” he said. “I hope scientists unite against this.”

Russia’s scientific community previously expressed concern that Russia’s security services have increased their involvement in their work and some scientists have been prosecuted for treason or espionage.

A scientist at one of Russia’s physics institutes who requested anonymity due to concern that a “scandal” would only make the situation worse, confirmed that the new decree is already making daily work difficult.

“Scientific organisations are gradually making rules about foreign visitors more complicated,” he said.

Getting an entrance permit to the institute for foreign colleagues “takes significantly longer” and sometimes they miss crucial meetings, he said.

“It’s sad,” he said. “It is senseless work and a worrying trend.”



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