AAAS to honour ‘persecuted’ Ukrainian marine biologist

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Sergei Piontkovski, the Ukrainian marine biologist facing criminal charges over his role in various international research projects, is to be honoured at a reception held annually by the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) to recognize persecuted scientists.

Piontkovski and colleagues at the Institute of Biology of the Southern Seas in Sebastopol have been under close scrutiny from the local branch of the country's security services — formerly the KGB — since the end of October over their links with the West (see Nature 401, 835 & 402, 6; 1999).

The AAAS's Science and Human Rights Program will host the reception at the association's annual conference in Washington next February. In a letter to Piontkovski, Elisa Muñoz of the AAAS says that “the Program will honor you in recognition of the persecution that you have endured”. She adds that AAAS officials “have been following your case and will continue to monitor events with concern”.

Initially, Piontkovski faced charges related to espionage and hard currency concerning a number of international science grants. However, he has now been charged with illegal currency operations and organized crime in relation to his handling of project funds paid to him in hard currency. Piontkovski expects court proceedings to start soon, and the case might start in January.

INTAS, the European body that promotes cooperation with scientists from the former Soviet Union, is one of the agencies making payments to Piontkovski, on a project on plankton distribution jointly funded by the Ukrainian Ministry of Science.

INTAS secretary David Gould said last week, “We have agreements of scientific cooperation which clearly state the terms of the contract”.

Such terms include the conditions under which payment can be made, and foresee payment in hard currency. INTAS says that, as far as it is aware, currency has been handled in accordance with signed agreements.

INTAS is due to hold a meeting in mid-January to evaluate bids from newly emerging states for the 1999 funding call. “Clearly, if this is not resolved there could be consequences for the support of projects in Ukraine,” says Gould. INTAS says it is continuing its “dialogue” with the science ministry.

Ukraine's president, Leonid Kuchma, has been reported as seeking a sign that Ukraine might achieve membership of the European Union. One union official says that, given the current situation in Ukraine, it will get a “negative response”.

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Loder, N. AAAS to honour ‘persecuted’ Ukrainian marine biologist. Nature 402, 568 (1999) doi:10.1038/45034

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