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Tightening Existing Links

The ties between France and Russia are numerous and have existed for a long time,” insists Patrick Le Fort, head of the CNRS office in Moscow. “We could even go back to the Age of Enlightenment with a reference to Voltaire's correspondence with Catherine II.” But today's Franco-Russian projects take the form of a more administrative framework. In fact, each of these projects is now administered through structures like LEAs (European Associated Laboratory) or GDREs (European Research Network). They could not exist without the help of major CNRS partners in the country like the Russian Academy of Science (RAS) and the Russian Foundation for Basic Research (RFBR). In this collaboration, the RFBR, with an evaluation system similar to that of CNRS, financially complements the choices of the RAS. Created in 1725, the RAS is the “Russian CNRS.” This civil self-governed and non-commercial institution, overseeing 105,000 researchers in all disciplines, has a historical partnership with France. Created in 1992, the RFBR is a federal agency whose main task is to provide support for ongoing research in all areas of basic science on a competitive basis. This agency, similar to the recently created French ANR,1 funds most of the country's research projects.

In fact, having quasi analogous research structures in both countries has made it easier for long lasting partnerships and collaborations.

To benefit from their mutual excellence  in the field of mathematics, two of the best schools in the world decided to work together. This led to the creation of the first joint international laboratory between the two countries (see box). Since then, many other LEAs have been launched in fields as varied as microelectronics and microsystems (LEMAC,2 created in 2004), neutrino properties, dark matter, and ultra heavy ions (LEA-Joule,3 created in October 2005), or the impact of human activity on the continental biosphere and issues related to global warming (LEAGE,4 December 2005). These joint laboratories help to develop a valuable system of exchanges between Russia and France, particularly for young researchers and for scientists working on subjects ranging from pure mathematics and condensed matter physics to geochemistry.

If an LEA acts as a “laboratory without walls,” a GDRE is more of a research network. It brings together multiple laboratories from at least two countries in a flexible partnership around shared areas of research. Its funding is intended to promote researcher mobility, information exchange, and the organization of seminars and workshops. Thanks to the impetus of CNRS, GDREs have been created around the world, Russia being no exception.

“Together with the Poncelet laboratory (see box), the GDRE + Yak-Aerosib is the most well-funded project,” says Le Fort. It focuses on atmospheric research by measuring greenhouse gases and ozone concentrations and analyzing the movements of pollutants on a large scale. The aim is to make a diagnosis of these regional exchanges and flows on the Eurasian continent. This has become a major issue in the context of the international market of emissions rights. Another project, particularly successful according to the Head of the Moscow Office, is the GDRE Vostok. Together with American teams, many French and Russian scientists are still doing research on the ice cores drilled in Antartica's Vostok Station 20 years ago. Some are 420,000 years old, and provide an enormous amount of information about past climate and environmental changes. The search for fossil living species in oxygen-devoted media is also a major stake. And there are other GDREs that range from laser to nuclear research.

What about Russia's renowned humanities researchers? “Scientists in these fields work in smaller teams, these are often collaborations between just a couple of individuals,” explains Le Fort.

Nevertheless, Humanities and Social Sciences are structuring themselves, one example being the creation of the Black Sea GDRE, which brings together French, Russian, Ukrainian, Bulgarian, Romanian, and Georgian institutes and research labs. The research focuses on the Hellenistic cultural and commercial exchanges in the Black Sea area. Two more Humanities and Social Sciences GDREs are being set up this year, with a further two next year.

“In all areas, scientific collaboration between Russia and France is a success due to a truly trusting and friendly relationship between the researchers in both countries,” comments Le Fort. “As far as the two main institutions are concerned, the RAS and the RFBR, France has a first-class reputation for cooperation.”


Samantha Maguire




in figures

> 500 billion rubles (€15 billion) R&D budget 2002-2004.

> 401,000 researchers in Russia (2004).

> 6,884,000 students in Russia (480 for 10,000 people) in 2004.

> 508 CNRS researchers in Russia in 2005, for an average stay of two weeks.

> 1000 Russian researchers came to CNRS in 2005 for a collaboration project.

> 40 International Programs for Scientific Cooperation.

> 8 European International Research Networks.

> 6 Associated European Laboratories.

> 1 International Joint Unit.



The Poncelet laboratory achievement

How could France lend support to the Russian mathematical tradition and its renowned multidisciplinary approach while also benefiting from it? The answer came in 2002, with the creation of a joint international research laboratory. The final agreement was signed on July 4th, 2006, between the CNRS, INRIA (the French National Institute for Research in Computer Science and Control), the RAS (Russian Academy of Sciences), the Independent University of Moscow, where the Poncelet Laboratory is based, and the RFBR (Russian Foundation for Fundamental Research). On the one hand, it has given Russian researchers the opportunity to work in continuous contact with their French counterparts. On the other hand, CNRS researchers are invited to Russia for periods of 10 months or more where they can learn and exchange information at the Russian School of Mathematics. The purpose is to intensify an effective scientific cooperation between French and Russian mathematicians, physicists, and computer scientists. The joint unit is interested in both fundamental and applied research in these interdisciplinary areas. Laurent Lafforgue (Field Medal winner in 2002) and other top French mathematicians participate in the laboratory's seminars and in its research projects. CNRS provides financial support and gives access to all available software and databases. The Poncelet laboratory took its name from Jean-Victor Poncelet, a famous French mathematician, born in Metz (Lorraine) in 1788. During his two-year sentence as a prisoner in Russia (1813-1814, after Napoleon's Russian campaign), he wrote the basis for modern projective geometry.






CNRS headquarters in Russia


Currently headed by Patrick Le Fort, the CNRS Office in Moscow will come under the direction of Vladimir Mayer December 1st. Its goal is to apply the international policies of CNRS in Russia and in the Community of Independent States (CIS). This branch also holds the power to recommend new courses of action and to undertake all the necessary assessments to assist the CNRS Office of European and International Relations (Direction des relations européennes et internationales, DREI) in finding the most suitable regional partners. A mediator between CNRS and its main partners in the area–the Russian Academy of Science (RAS) and the Russian Foundation for Fundamental Research (R2FR)–all Russian researchers who apply for a stay in France are familiar with the CNRS Office as it helps them with visa issues and facilitates their visit. Created in August 1991, this regional office covers 12 countries, four located in Europe–Belarus, Moldova, Russia, and Ukraine–and nine in Asia–Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Russia, Tajikistan, and Turkmenistan. The region extends over 22 million km2 and represents a population of 280M people.


Notes :

1. Agence nationale de la recherche: French National Research Agency (see CNRS International Magazine N°1).
1. European Laboratory for Non-linear Magneto Acoustics of Condensed Matter.
3. Joint Underground Laboratory in Europe. It brings together teams from the underground laboratory of Modane, located in the Fréjus tunnel in the South of France, with those from the Dshelopov laboratory of nuclear problems in Dubna, 100 km north of Moscow.
4. The Environmental Geochemistry LEA. It involves many partners from both countries. CNRS, the Paul Sabatier University in Toulouse, and the Institute of Research for Development (IRD) on the French side; Moscow State University, the RAS, and the RFBR on the Russian one.

Contacts :

> Patrick Le Fort
Head of the CNRS office in Moscow.
> Jean-Luc Teffo
Assistant Director, Central and Eastern Europe, DREI.


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