Meet the Superjet 100 (in triumphant rendering form)—the newest entrant into the sub-100 passenger regional jet arena. This one's notable, however, for being the first new passenger jet designed and built in Russia since the fall of the Soviet Union.
Russia's legendary civil aircraft design bureaus—Mikoyan, Yakovlev, Tupolev, Ilyushin—just barely survived the chaotic privatization that followed the end of the USSR. Basically, they survived in name only, as none had the resources to focus on anything but military projects. The Superjet marks the latest step in the process to revitalize the industry—a process that began last year with the massive restructuring of practically every major Russian aviation firm into the monolithic United Aircraft Building Corporation, placing all of them comfortably back under the wing of the Russian government which will retain a 75% stake. Notably, one of President Vladimir Putin's likely successors, Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Ivanov, was picked to run the new military and civil aviation conglomerate, ensuring his financial health for the foreseeable future.
The Superjet 100 is expected to begin flight tests before the year is up before entering into what Russia hopes will be stiff competition with the regional jet leaders—Brazil's Embraer and Canada's Bombardier. —John Mahoney
The British Crown Prosecution Service announced today that it is seeking the extradition of Russian businessman Andrei Lugovoi to face accusations that he murdered Alexander Litvinenko, the former KGB agent who died last November after being poisoned with a lethal dose of polonium-210, a rare and highly toxic radioactive compound [see our story " The First Assassination of the 21st Century," from the June issue]. "I have today concluded that the evidence sent to us by the police is sufficient to charge Andrei Lugovoi with the murder of Mr. Litvinenko by deliberate poisoning," Ken MacDonald, the director of public prosecutions, told reporters.Litvinenko, a spy turned entrepreneur who rose to prominence as an ally of expatriate tycoon Boris Berezvosky during the free-market 1990s, emigrated to England and railed loudly and publicly against the increasing authoritarianism of Russian president Vladimir Putin's regime. Litvinenko fell ill after a November 1 meeting at the Millennium Hotel in central London with Lugovoi and possibly two other associates. He suffered a slow, agonizing death, and his murder was widely believed to be retribution, directly or indirectly, for his comments about the Kremlin.Only hours after the British expatriation request, the Russian prosecutor-general said that it would not hand Lugovoi over to British officials but that it would consider using evidence collected by British investigators. "A citizen who has committed a crime on the territory of a foreign state can be prosecuted with evidence provided by the foreign state,but only on the territory of Russia," said a spokeswoman, Marina Y. Gridneva, in a televised statement.According to Russian news agencies, Lugovoi denies killing Litvinenko and said that he would soon make statements that would be "a sensation for public opinion in Britain."The poisoning highlights fears about Russia's decommissioned chemical and radioactive weapons. Several international reports on the state of the former Soviet arsenal point up the dangers of poorly guarded or unguarded weapons and substances in the region.—Jake Ward
For more information, read "The First Assassination of the 21st Century"
Surprisingly little media attention has been paid to Russian president Vladimir Putin's recent attempts to rein in the power of the Russian Academy of Sciences, which has operated with a sizeable amount of autonomy since it was founded by Peter the Great in 1724. Even under the Soviet Union, the Academy managed to defy the authorities by denying unqualified Communist party officials entry and refusing to expel the physicist Andrei Sakharov, who was an active campaigner for human rights and political reform.
Perhaps it was this defiance that spurred the government to take its first steps against the Academy last year, by trying to stack the institution with members of parliament and prominent businessmen, most of whom were turned away for insufficient scientific competence. That move may have failed, but a few months ago, the government took a different tack, declaring the institute moribund and in need of a new charter. The proposed charter would place the Academy's multibillion-dollar property holdings under state control, give Putin final approval of the Academy president, and put many of the organization's decisions in the hands of government oversight committees. With this loss of autonomy, research priorities would be taken out of the hands of scientists, and basic research could lose out to more immediately profitable projects.
The scientists, not surprisingly, are quite upset by these maneuvers. In an article printed this week in Britains Sunday Telegraph, Vitaly Ginzburg, a 90-year-old Nobel Prize winner and vice president of the Academy, said that, sure, science was bad under Stalin, but not this bad. "In those days you could come up with an idea and create," he said, "That's how we put the first Sputnik satellite into space. Now the government thinks science must bring only income and profit, which is absurd." Key members of the Academy have expressed concern that the governments moves signal an attempt to seize the institutions property holdings and dismantle any challenges to Putins power. In late March, they voted almost unanimously to approve their own version of the charter, in defiance of the Kremlin's wishes, which has put the sides in a temporary stalemate.
Government officials say the Academy is in need of fresh blood and blame Russia's brain drain in part on the institutions inflexibility. But given Putin's history of consolidating power, the scientists aren't alone in viewing this as another chapter of the same old story. The international community is beginning to sound alarms about the future of science in Russia—but in the meantime, government restrictions are leaving Russian scientists nostalgic for the golden age of Sputnik. —Kevin Friedl