The Russian Council of the Federation – the upper house of the Russian Parliament – is proposing to ban certain foreign scientists and organisations operating in Russia who may pose a threat to the country’s national security, according to a spokesman of the press service of the Council. 

Some of them are organisations which search for talent in Russian universities and schools and encourage them to study abroad.

This is an article from University World News, an online publication that covers global higher education. It is presented here under an agreement with The Chronicle.

A list of scientists, organisations and foundations deemed a threat is being drawn up by officials and members of the State Duma and the Council of the Federation and is expected to be completed this week. 

Already among these are EF International Academy, which conducts competitions among Russian students, offering the winners its Bertil Hult scholarship to study abroad, mostly at US universities, the US Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs and the German Goethe cultural centre. 

The ban may also apply to the German Academic Exchange Service DAAD, the Soros Foundation, the Ford Foundation and the Woodrow Wilson Center.

According to members of the Russian Council of the Federation, other organisations on the list include the Soros Foundation, the National Endowment for Democracy, the MacArthur Foundation, the National Democratic Institute and many others. 

The bill, which will be considered by the Russian State Duma on 27 August, has the support of Russia’s President Vladimir Putin. 

But it has sparked criticism from many local analysts in the field of science and higher education, who say that if the list is adopted it will result in a massive outflow of Western scientists and scientific foundations from Russia.

Andrei Klishas, chairman of the committee on constitutional legislation of the Russian Council of the Federation, said such a list will be completed with the information provided by the Ministry of Justice, the Federal Security Service, the Prosecutor General's Office and other departments and state services, and that it is in the interests of the Russian government. 

According to members of the Russian Council of the Federation, the activities of such funds and organisations are destructive for Russia, while their main goal is to destabilise the current situation in the country, both politically and economically. 

Konstantin Kosachev, head of the committee on international affairs of the Council of the Federation, said in 2013 the volume of funding of such foreign organisations in Russia amounted to RUB37 billion (US$647 million), but in 2014 rose to more than RUB70 billion.

Some of them work in close cooperation with some leading Russian universities and even secondary schools, conducting a search for talented students with the aim of offering them grants for living and studying in the US and other Western countries. 

In addition, according to a spokesman of the Russian Council of the Federation, many such foundations are seeking to ensure their representatives are appointed to posts in key departments in Russian universities with the aim of expanding their presence in the Russian system of higher education. 

If the list of banned scientists and organisations comes into operation, most local universities and scientific institutions will not be able to cooperate with foreign scientists from countries deemed ‘unfriendly’ on the same terms as before. 

Terminate agreements

Sensing which way the wind is blowing, some Russian universities have already started to terminate their agreements with foreign scientists. 

For example, several days ago the management of the Nizhny Novgorod State University, one of Russia’s leading universities, decided to fire Kendrick White, a well-known venture investor from the US, who served as a vice-rector for innovation of the university and was involved in running several scientific projects. 

Evgeny Chuprunov, president of the Nizhny Novgorod State University, declined to comment, but said that the decision was taken in accordance with the current political realities in Russia.

The decision has been criticised by Russian scientists. Professor Artem R Oganov, head of the Computational Materials Discovery Laboratory at the Moscow Institute of Physics and Technology, Russia’s leading university in the field of physics and mathematics, said that the dismissal of White is unacceptable as he contributed significantly to the development of Nizhny Novgorod University and Russian university science in general. 

According to sources close to some leading Russian universities and the Russian Academy of Sciences, scientists are considering filing a petition to the Russian Ministry of Education and Science and the country’s Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev, demanding an end to attacks on Western scientists working in the country. 

However, on 6 July, Dynasty, a leading private research foundation which had been added to a government list of so-called ‘foreign agents’ because it finances Russian scientific research from overseas sources, as reported by University World News, was forced to close. In a one line statement on its website it said it was "liquidating" all activities, according to a report in The Guardian.