Session to discuss problems and prospects of developing Belarusian science

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It is necessary to make important decisions in the sphere of science in order to advance and develop Belarusian science. Belarus President Aleksandr Lukashenko made the relevant statement in his speech during the session to discuss the problems and prospects of developing Belarusian science on 7 April.

Before the session Aleksandr Lukashenko familiarized himself with the exposition of scientific and R&D accomplishments in the National Academy of Sciences of Belarus (NASB). The President paid special attention to the innovations in the energy sector, manufacturing, space technologies, wondered about the efficiency of the practical application of these innovations.

About 40 organizations displayed their innovations in such fields as industrial technologies, energy sector, information and space technologies, additive technologies, nanotechnologies, defense and security, biotechnologies, medicine, pharmaceutics. The exposition included about 150 products.

The participants of the conference discussed how the operation of Belarusian science will be managed in the future. Aleksandr Lukashenko said he believes it is necessary to advance without destroying anything. “If we see that the way Belarusian science is run is subpar, let us — the older generation, who have created this science, and the younger generation, to whom the future of science belongs — make decisions,” the head of state stressed. “If it is an anachronism, if the country doesn’t need this system now, if it is unacceptable, we should make the relevant decisions. We cannot pretend nothing is going on.”

Aleksandr Lukashenko underlined that a lot of problems had been accumulated in Belarusian science and had to be addressed. In particular, he pointed out the inertia and cumbersomeness of the structure of Belarusian science. Apart from that, the head of state drew attention to the low knowledge content in the gross domestic product. There are also problems with the uneven distribution of money from the national centralized innovation fund. The problems raised by Aleksandr Lukashenko during the conference included the lack of significant, major government contracts on buying R&D and innovative products.

The head of state mentioned problems in scientific research and development projects and problems with assimilating R&D products into the production sector and the social sphere. He drew attention to the frequently formalistic attitudes to compiling scientific research and R&D programs.

The procedure for deciding salaries for scientists and researchers was discussed during the conference. Aleksandr Lukashenko believes that in this regard, it is necessary to develop some principles, approaches, and methods. “Scientists are special, gifted people. They should not be distracted by financial concerns,” the head of state said.

If Belarusian scientists suggest implementing a breakthrough project, the government will always find money for it, the head of state said. “We will surely do it. If you come up with a super project and an export-oriented one at that, a project that can return the investment, trust me we will find money for it. Not $10-15 million but $100 million if necessary. But you will have to prove that the project is vital for us or will pay its way,” Aleksandr Lukashenko said.

As a last resort the government may consider setting up a dedicated fund to finance bleeding-edge R&D projects. Aleksandr Lukashenko stressed that the existing options are sufficient for now. Getting things done is what matters.

Alexander also spoke about the recently awarded State Awards of Belarus for 2016. All the outstanding scientists, who were nominated for the state prize for the year 2016 accomplishments, but failed to get it, will be rewarded, the President promised. “In the near future I am going to review a draft presidential decree to reward all the outstanding scientists. I truly don’t want any young scientist or an experienced specialist or scientist to fall under the radar,” the head of state stressed.

The right of scientists to running risks was also discussed during the government conference. Scientists often face extremely steep requirements, which rule out the possibility of failure. This is why scientists are reluctant to explore breakthrough research areas where high risks are rampant and success is not guaranteed. The head of state instructed the State Control Committee and the General Prosecutor’s Office to objectively analyze the fulfillment of scientific programs without picking on the results. “Yes, you have to control the spending of government money. If laws are violated, let’s talk about it,” Aleksandr Lukashenko said. “Scientists may make errors or allow some risks, may explore some wrong direction… I implore you to keep it in mind and treat them like human beings.”

It is necessary to put more efforts into getting scientists to contribute to the accomplishment of important state tasks, the President said. “We sometimes fail to tap the potential of Belarusian scientists. And it is our fault. They are experienced, trained, smart, well-read, and educated people. They are geniuses for resolving concrete problems. Why can’t the government invite them for consultations? They represent a huge stratum of the society, which is not involved in state administration and the resolution of most important state tasks. Who is to blame? Scientists are, up to a point, but above all we are,” Aleksandr Lukashenko underlined.

As an example the president mentioned the development of legislation, in particular, the presidential decree on preventing social dependency. In his words, the document would not have been so contradictive if experts with hands-on experience would have been involved in its development.

“The way the decree was executed was disgusting. After I gave instructions to rework it, I read it again to find out what the document’s underlying principle is. The principle has not been changed. Do you think ‘freeloaders’ as they call themselves will work through the year, paying $12 or whatever every month? They won’t. It is a disaster waiting to happen. They will once again stay idle till the deadline. Once again they will be invited to take to the streets and so on,” Aleksandr Lukashenko was convinced.

This is why highly specialized experts have to be directly involved in the development of legislation because they can come up with new elegant approaches. “Couldn’t we get together with scientists, humanitarians, and academicians in order to work on the document and produce several options? Instead I received the same kind of the draft decree,” the Belarus President stated.

Prospects of Belarusian science were discussed from various points of view. The development of university science was mentioned among other things. In accordance with the best international practices in addition to educational and research functions Belarusian universities should also commercialize the latest technologies. Aleksandr Lukashenko said he believes that the proposal can be implemented. “At least we can start with a number of universities, which are already ready for it,” the head of state remarked.

At the session Rector of the Belarusian State Economic University Vladimir Shimov pointed out the interrelation of science and the economy and asked the head of state about the results of his recent meeting with Russia President Vladimir Putin in St. Petersburg. According to the scientist, there are various speculations in mass media regarding these talks, therefore scientists and the society in general would like to get first hand information about the talks from the President.

“Commenting on various insinuations, especially those of Russian officials, I would like to say that, perhaps, they were not pleased with the results of our negotiations with Putin, because all of them had their own interests. And the outcome was a bit different from what they had expected. I will not say that we arrived at the planned results and reached the initial goals. There was a certain compromise, and a very beneficial for us,” Aleksandr Lukashenko said.

According to the President, the issues on the agenda were in the spotlight even before the talks. “Yes, we truly maintain very good relations with Russia. Russian people do not differ from us at all. We will always respect them. But we have our country, our people, and we must ensure the normal operation of our state,” he emphasized.

According to the head of state, controversial issues began to emerge in the Belarusian-Russian relations because of the different approaches to prices for natural gas. “There are different approaches to natural gas and oil prices on international markets. Prices for natural gas have always been pegged to prices for oil. If oil prices are falling, natural gas prices are falling too. In accordance with the formula that we had been using with Russians before, we should have paid $100 for 1,000 cubic meters of gas,” Aleksandr Lukashenko explained.

However, the Russian side decided to increase the price to $130 and said that Belarus will still pay a minimal price in comparison with global prices. “There no such prices in the world. This is true. But it is also true that we have the UnionState, a common market, and there should be equal conditions for people, economic operators. Our greenhouses paying $150-170 for gas will not be able to compete with Russian greenhouses paying $40-60 for it,” the President said.

The situation is the same in the energy sector. Belarusian enterprises had to pay for natural gas much more than their Russian colleagues to produce electricity. “There should ne equal conditions,” the head of state stressed.

In his words, Vladimir Putin answered that he does not want the economic situation to worsen in Belarus which the main ally of Russia. However, the Russian side suggested fulfilling the contract with Gazprom this year. The price for gas in this contract is $130 for 1,000 cubic meters. Then the sides settled on a compromise and agreed on the compensation from the re-export of oil. As a result, the funds from the re-export of 6 million tonnes will annually come to the Belarusian budget. “This is beneficial,” Aleksandr Lukashenko said.

The sides also discussed one more financial issue. In accordance with the previous arrangements, Belarus should have delivered about 1 million tonnes of gasoline to the Russian market losing $150 million every year. “Now we have agreed to close this topic. We will not deliver this gasoline,” the President said.

The sides also decided that the gas price for the Belarusian side will be formed in Russian rubles.

Apart from that, the parties discussed the delivery of Belarusian products to the Russian market. Aleksandr Lukashenko stressed that the Russian side imposed unjustified bans. “He [President Putin] promised to deal with it,” the President said.

Russian government bodies monitoring the state border also make a contribution to it. According to Aleksandr Lukashenko, they are corrupt. “We have unveiled all those schemes. He said that we should deal with it together. It is a good idea. We will handle this problem together,” he said.

However, the head of state emphasized that economic issues were not the main topic of the negotiations. The parties paid special attention to the defense of their borders. “The situation in the western theater of operations is very serious today,” the head of state explained.

The terrorist attack took place in St. Petersburg on the day of the talks. Therefore, defense issues were in the center of attention, the sides agreed to act together in this field.

“We will continue this conversation in Bishkek. Apart from agricultural issues, the delivery of products to Russia, industrial cooperation, the Supreme State Council will also focus on security and defense matters, especially in view of the forthcoming army exercise West 2017,” the head of state added. “I would like to encourage them to provide assistance to us in the re-equipment of the Belarusian army." The two leaders agreed to address this issue.

Summing up results of the session at the NASB, the head of state decided against assigning strategic tasks to the scientists. Instead he suggested taking a break, for instance, till September. The situation will be thoroughly analyzed by then taking into account all the proposals voiced during the meeting on 7 April and all the proposals that may emerge later on. Aleksandr Lukashenko instructed the Belarus President Administration to set up a professional working group for this purpose.

The head of state’s address to the scientific community will be prepared. “It will evaluate the situation and will sketch out prospects. We should at last close the chapter on all the debatable issues,” the President said.

The President stressed that the discussion was very important and substantial. “A lot of examples were mentioned. They prove that we have managed to preserve and multiply the powerful intellectual potential that previous generations have accumulated,” the head of state concluded.