Kasyanov: knowledge is “of principal importance”. Credit: AP/ALEXANDER ZEMLIANICHENKO

Russian science appears to have a friend in the country's new prime minister, Mikhail Kasyanov — at least in principle. In a major address to the lower house of the Russian parliament last week, Kasyanov said: “We now have entered the information epoch” where knowledge is “of principal importance”.

He went on to say that “the development of education and promoting basic and applied research in the sphere of modern technologies should be considered as the most important investment in our country's future”. But despite this show of concern, the new government will operate without the former Ministry of Science and Technologies.

Kasyanov has reduced the overall number of ministries from 30 to 24. Science now comes under a single Ministry of Industry, Science and Technologies. Headed by Aleksandr Dondukov, 46, the new ministry will be responsible for many aspects of Russia's economy, including its industrial development, military production and arms exports. Many fear that basic science will not be high on its list of priorities.

Dondukov graduated from the Moscow aviation university in 1957, and worked on aircraft design in several Soviet and later Russian design bureaux. In 1994 he was appointed chairman of the directors' council of the Yakovlev Design Bureau in Moscow.

His stated ambition was to centralize control of aircraft production in Russia by working closely with the aviation research and development offices of the former Soviet Union republics. He is not known to have previously expressed any interest in basic research or educational programmes.