Russian scientists have been ordered to report all professional contacts with foreigners in a move apparently aimed at reimposing Soviet-style controls on science, a prominent human rights campaigner said Thursday.
Sergei Kovalyov, a parliament deputy and chairman of the human rights group Memorial, released copies of a document from an institute of the Russian Academy of Sciences ordering researchers to provide information on a wide range of foreign contacts, including grants and laboratory visits by foreigners.
Kovalyov described the regulations as further restrictions on freedom of speech and part of a state effort to discourage international cooperation with Russian scientists. In the last year, security agencies have pursued espionage cases against a number of Russian scholars for what critics say is ordinary academic cooperation.
Kovalyov said that under President Vladimir V. Putin, Russia is heading toward what he called a "controlled democracy."
"China not so long ago completed the first trial which sentenced a citizen to jail for . . . improper use of the Internet," Kovalyov said. "Perhaps we are moving in the same direction."
Kremlin officials and some scientists downplayed Kovalyov's allegation. Deputy Prime Minister Valentina I. Matviyenko suggested the former dissident scientist was using "unreliable sources."
"I rule out the assumption that such an instruction could have been issued," Matviyenko said, according to the Interfax news agency.
The Academy of Sciences is composed of dozens of high-powered research institutes led by a governing board, or presidium. Kovalyov released a copy of a memorandum from the Institute of General Genetics dated May 24 that refers to a board document entitled "A Plan of Measures by the Academy of Sciences to Prevent Damage to the Russian Federation."
In connection with the plan, the memo says, members of the institute are "urgently requested to provide information on international agreements," including contracts, grant applications, upcoming visits by foreigners and results of trips abroad. Attached to the memo is a list of specific measures, which appears to have been issued to the academy as a whole, that includes tightening controls on openly published information and ensuring the security of using "international information systems including the Internet." The list also includes a timetable for implementation.
Kovalyov said it is not clear whether the instructions were coming from the Kremlin or the Federal Security Service, of FSB, the security agency that took over most of the responsibilities of the Soviet KGB.
"It may well be an initiative coming from below, that is, from old men sitting on the presidium of the Academy of Sciences," Kovalyov said in an interview on Echo Moskvy radio. "They remember Soviet times very well, when such controls were in force."
Natalya Zhukovskaya, a scholar at the Institute of Anthropology and Ethnology, said that about two weeks ago she received a request for information about international projects and grants. She said she does not know whether that instruction was part of a larger effort to impose more control.
"Despite the absence of official confirmation, all my colleagues agree on one thing: We do not like what is happening," she said in a telephone interview. "Over the past years since the beginning of perestroika [in the mid-1980s], the practice of informing the authorities about our contacts with foreigners has not existed. All scholars felt absolutely free to travel, speak and research to our hearts' content. . . . The implementation of this plan will obviously mean an attempt to tighten the screws and take us back to where we came from a little more than a decade ago."
But Pavel D. Sarkisov, rector of the D.I. Mendeleyev University of Chemical Technology of Russia, insists that he has received no new instructions from the Academy of Sciences concerning foreigners.
"As a scientist, I have constant contacts with my foreign colleagues, including those in the United States. The same applies to most of the professors working at our university. But none of us has heard anything of the kind," he said. He suggested that the new instructions may be the personal initiative of officials at the genetics institute.
In the last year, Russian security agencies have taken measures against several scholars for contacts with foreigners.
Arms control expert Igor V. Sutyagin, with the prestigious USA-Canada Institute in Moscow, is on trial for espionage. In closed testimony Thursday, Sutyagin said he took information only from mass circulation newspapers and journals and provided the data to a British business consulting firm, according to a report by Echo Moskvy. The FSB has accused Sutyagin of spying for an unnamed member nation of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.
In December, U.S. businessman Edmond D. Pope was convicted of espionage and sentenced to 20 years in prison as a result of contacts with a Russian scientist, who provided him technical information on a high-tech torpedo, though the American was later pardoned by Putin. Pope's contact, a researcher at the Bauman Moscow State Technical University, was arrested along with the American, but charges against him were dropped, apparently in return for his cooperation.
In the United States, restrictions on foreign contacts apply only to a select group of scientists based on the nature of their work and the nature of their contacts. According to a senior U.S. official, those affected include in particular scholars who have security clearances or work in fields that are especially sensitive.
Times staff writer Norman Kempster in Washington and Alexei V. Kuznetsov of The Times' Moscow Bureau contributed to this report.