Scientist says Putin's Russia worse than under Stalin

MOSCOW (Reuters) - The pursuit of science in President Vladimir Putin’s Russia is driven by profit alone and there was less government interference even under Josef Stalin, a Russian Nobel Prize winner said in a interview.

Russia's President Vladimir Putin attends a meeting with Slovakia's Prime Minister Robert Fico (not pictured) at the presidential residence Novo-Ogaryovo outside Moscow May 4, 2007. REUTERS/ITAR-TASS/PRESIDENTIAL PRESS SERIVCE

Vitaly Ginzburg’s comments to the Sunday Telegraph newspaper are likely to put Russia’s scientists back on a collision course with the Kremlin.

In March, Russia’s Academy of Sciences, founded by Tsar Peter the Great, spurned a government plan to establish a new supervisory council that would control the body’s finances and include officials from the presidential administration.

The government says the reform of the Academy is desperately needed to reverse the continuing brain drain from Russia, make research work lucrative for a generation of young scientists and help build the hi-tech economy Putin has set as his goal.

“Of course, in Stalin’s times the Academy was under the control of the central committee of the Communist Party,” Ginzburg told the paper.

“But in those days you could come up with an idea and create -- that’s how we put the first Sputnik satellite into space. Now the government thinks science must bring only income and profit, which is absurd.”

“Of course it is about Putin. Our democracy is far from ideal,” said Ginzburg, 90, who shared the 2003 Nobel Prize for physics with fellow countryman Alexei Abrikosov.

Putin, whose second -- and last -- four-year term ends next year, enjoys vast popularity nationwide while the economy is fast growing, people’s incomes are rising and state coffers groan from windfall revenues from booming oil exports.

But critics at home and abroad accuse the Russian leader of backtracking on democratic reforms and establishing tight control over the bureaucracy and the economy.

They say he is trying to bring the academy under his sway as well. Supporters of the reforms say too many institutions are run by cliques of elderly academics who resist change while promising young scientists are tempted abroad for better pay and opportunities.

The Academy has boasted dozens of Nobel prize winners in its near 300-year history.