Russia's Putin chastises officials who moonlight as academics

MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russian President Vladimir Putin warned senior officials on Wednesday he may fire them if they are found to be moonlighting as academics, which would mean they were not devoting all of their time to their main job.

Russian President Vladimir Putin speaks during a meeting with journalists at the Kremlin in Moscow, Russia November 23, 2016. Sputnik/Kremlin/Alexei Druzhinin via REUTERS

The warning, delivered in theatrical fashion at a televised meeting with leading scientists and officials, appeared to be part of a drive by Putin to show ordinary Russians, suffering in an economic slowdown, that he won’t stand for corrupt or lazy officials.

Wrapping up a meeting about state funding for science, Putin turned to the president of the Russian Academy of Sciences, Yevgeny Fortov, and questioned him about the academy’s election of senior officials as its members.

“Why did you did this. Are they such great scientists that the Academy of Sciences cannot get by without them. And the second question: what should I do now?”

A startled Fortov, sitting a few places away from Putin, responded that all those officials had permission from their bosses to run for the academy.

“That’s not the question. Are they such great scientists that they have to be academicians?” Putin asked again.

When Fortov began explaining the officials had met the academy’s criteria for election, Putin interrupted him too say: “Then they are great scientists.”

The president said he should let them go work in science because “it seems their scientific activity is much more important than carrying out some kind of routine administrative task within the executive branch.”

With that, he ended the meeting.

Putin did not name any officials. The Academy of Sciences list of members includes at least one senior official, Sergei Glazyev, who is a presidential advisor with a background as an economist.

Russia holds a presidential election in 2018 and the Kremlin candidate - widely expected to be Putin - will need to win over voters despite the tough economic situation.

In the past few months, Putin has been taking an unusually tough line on errant bureaucrats.

Several senior officials have been fired. Last week, prosecutors charged Economy Minister Alexei Ulyukayev with accepting a $2 million bribe. His lawyer said he denied the charges.

Asked by reporters after Wednesday’s meeting about what rank of public servants would be affected by his ruling about moonlighting officials, Putin declined to give details but said: “I want there to be some discipline” in state bodies.

Writing by Christian Lowe; Editing by Jack Stubbs and Tom Heneghan