30 May 2007

The familiar face of the warden

The fall of the Soviet empire brought with it a problem of thousands high level scientists being unemployed or employed for symbolic wages in various scientific organizations all over the former Soviet Union.

Many of the scientists have found employment outside of the country and emigrated, effectively putting themselves out of reach of the Russian FSB. The remaining ones, however, are feeling the increasing pressure of FSB that has one purpose: to curtail their cooperation with their colleagues abroad. And of course, to prevent direct participation of the scientists in projects initiated and financed by foreign institutions.

A typical case of this pressure is that of Oleg Korobeinichev, who heads a laboratory in the Institute of Chemical Kinetics and Combustion in Novosibirsk, part of the Russian Academy of Sciences. The linked article does not tell the whole story, which is provided in more details here.

"Not connected to Pentagon", says the article and tells the absurd tale of persecution. The charge of disclosing state secrets against Korobeinichev, dating from March 2006, was based on an expert opinion requested by FSB from undisclosed source.

The investigation by FSB took a better part of nine months and the court hearing (behind closed doors) started only in December 2006. Only then three highly regarded scientists, one of them Sergey Dzyuba, who heads the Institute of Chemical Kinetics and Combustion, sent a letter of protest. One of the amazing things that was discovered is that since 1993 (!) the institute has not undertaken any classified research activities.

The whole charge was concocted based on the Korobeinichev's own reports about his research financed by grants from US army starting in 2002 and later. The results of the research were published in the open scientific press, some of them being a part of graduate and doctoral dissertations of Korobeinichev's pupils.

According to Sergey Dzyuba, it is the first case in Russian history when a scientists is being prosecuted (or, rather, persecuted) using the results of fundamental scientific research, published openly and discussed in conferences and seminars.

During the last few years several scientists where prosecuted for similar offenses, in some cases the trial resulted in jail sentences. How many of the charges were real and how many concocted, like in case of Oleg Korobeinichev - we'll never know. One thing is clear - the message to the scientists is unequivocal, and the good old KGB is not hiding its face anymore.