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“It’s a little unusual, but I think this is an area that might be of interest,” Mr. Kossikov said, adding that an experiment was under way to determine what it would take to put the robots to work in the field.
A former Soviet official, Mr. Shilov, who grew up in Moscow in the 1990s, said that in the long run he hoped that the work would help improve relations between Moscow and St. Petersburg. “I think it will help us to build a new relationship,” he said. But other scientists were skeptical about its prospects.
“It’s an interesting idea,” said Alexey Sivin, a physicist at the Moscow Institute of Physics and Technology, who said that he did not accept the suggestion that robotics would be a way of strengthening Russia’s industrial leadership. “But it’s not really an answer to our problem in the field of science,” he said.
That the idea was developed as part of a broader effort to strengthen Russia’s scientific and technological culture is unsurprising.
In a country that has long emphasized the importance of science and technology, that has sometimes come at a price or at the expense of other interests.
Dr. Zinaida Ozerovna, a prominent scientist, has long complained that science and technology projects are being used to boost the fortunes of the oligarchs who dominate the Russian economy. The scientists she works with, she says, have been threatened with dismissal or even assassination, and their research projects have been canceled or taken over by other people.
“We know about the threats to this scientific culture,” Ms. Ozerovna said. “A lot of those who make decisions on research are not even science people. This is what you see happening now.”
The problem is particularly acute since the end of the 1990s, she said, when Russia’s economy was in a deep recession and its science and technology institutes were shuttered or put under strain.
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In order to keep the research going, the Soviet-era Institute of Physics was created in 1998, to which the Ministry of Foreign Affairs attached a series of conditions, including strict rules on conflicts of interest.
The institute’s directors have included former Ministry officials, a
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