There is little information about how the new Eurasian Economic Union may affect scientists in Belarus and Kazakhstan, which entered a closer economic union with Russia this week (29 May).
The backdrop to the agreement is two major forces, the EU and Russia, courting a variety of states in eastern Europe and central Asia to gain influence over their economies and future development.
The EU’s Eastern Partnership Programme promises some modest research benefits, whereas Russia’s Eurasian Economic Union does not seem to explicitly refer to scientific research. It does include provisions for free movement of labour and unified patent regulations that may be helpful to scientists.
The Eurasian Economic Commission also has agreements with the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) to cooperate in advancing scientific and technical progress and with the World Organisation for Animal Health to cooperate on veterinary science, for example.
And Belarus already has bilateral agreements on science cooperation with Russia outside the economic union.
For example, on 21 May Belarus ratified an agreement with Russia to cooperate in the deployment and development of the Russian GLONASS satellite navigation system. This should allow Belarus to take part in joint projects in satellite navigation, and exchange scientific and technical information, computer software and personnel training programs, according to Voice of Russia.
Joint scientific projects with the Russian innovation center Skolkovo were also discussed (5 May) by PM Mikhail Myasnikovich and Russian scientist and Nobel laureate in physics Zhores Alferov, according to Belteleradiocompany.
Alferov, Chair of St. Petersburg Department of the Russian Academy of Science, said: “I believe a number of scientific projects to be very promising. They will promote achievements in IT, electronics, physics, medicine and biology”.
But some say that this closeness to Russia may also be limiting the progress of Belarus’s science.
“Two major factors that explain the low productivity of Belarusian science have to do with ageing researchers and their international isolation. These problems stem, among other things, from poor financing and restrictive bureaucratic rules,” Yauheni Preiherman, policy director of the Discussion and Analytical Society Liberal Club in Minsk, wrote in Belarus Digest last month (8 May).
“In 2004, a presidential decree established a list of journals regarded as scientific in Belarus. The list contains no original English-language periodicals. In other words, the leading international academic journals with the highest impact factor indicators have no proper legal status in Belarus,” he wrote.
“Obviously, this does not stimulate Belarusian researchers to monitor world-leading journals and submit their papers to them. Instead, they have an incentive to keep track of Russian language journals, the majority of which do not enjoy real recognition by the international scientific community.”
As a result, Belarusian scientists and research institutes remain “chronic outsiders” with their research impact being “absolutely marginal in a global context”, he wrote.