The Royal Society has enjoyed strong links with Russia since its earliest days in the seventeenth century, when Peter the Great visited and struck up a particularly cordial relationship with Edmond Halley, taking his advice on the Russian navy, among other things. These links continued throughout the 20th century despite wider Cold War tensions, with the first man in space, Yuri Gagarin, visiting the Society and a Society delegation travelling to Moscow over 50 years ago. This March saw thirty of the UK’s most promising early career scientists head to Kazan in the Republic of Tatarstan, 2 hours by plane from Moscow, for a Frontiers of Science Meeting jointly held with the Russian Academy of Sciences, which involved meeting thirty of their Russian counterparts to discuss eight research areas over four days.
Last week saw the continuation of this long tradition, with the visit of a high level Russian delegation, led by Professor Vladislav Panchenko, Chair of the Russian Foundation for Basic Research (RFBR), along with representatives from the Russian Academy of Sciences and the Ministry of Education and Science, for a UK-Russia roundtable on research and policy.
Organised and hosted jointly between the Society’s Prof Martyn Poliakoff FRS, Foreign Secretary and Dr Julia Knights, Head of the Science & Innovation Network (SIN) – Russia of the British Embassy in Moscow, the aim of the meeting was to bring together science, engineering and research funders, along with academies and other stakeholders, to forge closer links and to promote mutual understanding of each other’s organisations, research landscapes and priorities. It was then followed by a short programme of visits to some key UK research organisations and government departments.
A key aim of the meeting was to discuss shared research priorities for a bilateral statement under the UK-Russia Joint Commission on Science and Innovation to take place in October at the Royal Society – a high level ministerial meeting between UK science minister David Willetts and his Russian counterpart, Dmitry Livanov, to review existing collaborations and to discuss future activities. A number of areas of mutual interest were agreed upon including Arctic and polar research, space research, large research facilities and accelerator science. The roundtable also led to several new science missions being agreed in both directions in 2013/14. This week’s programme, and the history of scientific links between our countries, only serves to highlight the importance of science in diplomacy, long a significant area of interest to the Society and to the Science & Innovation Network (SIN) – Russia, in fostering international scientific collaboration, and strengthening relations more broadly. This latter aim has already been boosted by the recent announcement of the UK/Russia Year of Culture in 2014.
The Society and SIN-Russia are now busy preparing for the upcoming UK Russia Joint Commission, and encourage any UK research stakeholders that have an interest to participate to get in touch.