Chairman of the Interstate Committee for the Dissemination of Knowledge and Adult Education,
President of the International Association “Znanie”
Full member of the International Academy of Astronautics,
Academician of the Russian Academy of Cosmonautics named after K.E. Tsiolkovsky. Academician of Russian Academy of Cosmonautics named after K.E. Tsiolkovsky
President of the International Association “Znanie”
“OFFICIALS MUST SERIOUSLY REORGANIZE THEMSELVES”.
(July 19, 2009 interview to Voice of Russia radio station).
Recently, US President Barack Obama paid his first visit to Russia. As you know, the presidents of the two countries signed a preparatory agreement on a new reduction of strategic offensive weapons and an agreement on the transit of U.S. military cargoes to Afghanistan through Russian airspace. At the same time, it was decided to evaluate the possibility of joint participation in the reconstruction of infrastructure in Afghanistan. The sides also expressed their intention to speed up the entry into force of the agreement on cooperation in peaceful uses of nuclear energy. In addition, the U.S. leader said that the U.S. might refuse to deploy a third missile defense site in Europe. So what are the prospects for warming between Russia and the United States? I, Victor Samarin, and my colleague, political scientist Alexander Chernitsky, talk about this with Yefim Malitikov, president of the International Znanie Association, academician.
– Efim Mikhailovich, last time we talked about distance adult education. What other areas do you see as pressing in Russia’s civilian cooperation with the United States?
– Our listeners may know that e-government was supposed to start working in Russia in 2010. But it is already clear that this is not going to happen, most agencies are not at all ready to transfer their relations with the population to remote access. Meanwhile in the US electronic government is already a reality. I think that it would be easier to use the American bicycle than to invent our own Russian bicycle. Admittedly, to do this our valiantly effervescent officials need to seriously reconstruct themselves and force them to become more open in terms of information and get better at computers. We are glad to see that President Medvedev is setting a personal example by starting his day with Internet news sites.
– Okay, let us assume that electronic government has been created in Russia after all, and that its work is fine-tuned. What good will it do, exactly?
– Go ahead. In the U.S., developers coordinate the development of sites with the authorities right from their offices. Motorists, without leaving their homes, register and unregister their cars, and renew their driver’s licenses. The virtual gun store is linked to the state service that issues permits for the possession of firearms, so that even in this case the buyer does not need to pound all sorts of thresholds. People have been filing tax returns, voting in all kinds of elections for a long time. And I’m not even talking about all sorts of payments – electronic payments have become the norm for America.
– Tell me, is the United States really interested in digitizing Russia as soon as possible? In other words, what is the benefit for America?
– For both countries, the benefit is unquestionable. The U.S. is the leader of globalization, and objectively interested in accelerating it. The transition of all of humanity from an “analog” past into a “digital” future is in America’s interest, but it is also in Russia’s interest. After all, globalization cannot be resisted; it is logical and inevitable. Here it is necessary to take a trailing rather than blocking stance: anyway, in a hostile confrontation with globalization, the death of its unintelligent, illiterate opponents will not even be noticed. It is also necessary to take into account that, in the future, civil society will merge with the information society, and the information society will coincide with the state – at least, with its electronic component. In my opinion, it would be very useful for Russia to quickly overcome its traditional closed nature, even with the help of America.
– Efim Mikhailovich, in your public speeches, including at our last meeting in the Voice of Russia studio, you often mention satellite technology. In that connection, I would like to remind our audience that you are a full member of the Russian Tsiolkovsky Academy of Cosmonautics. I would also like to congratulate you on your recent election as an academician of the International Academy of Astronautics. And now a question. Would better relations between the two powers facilitate progress in the exploration of the Universe, or are things already going well in this respect?
– Thank you for your congratulations. Things are going more or less well as far as the operation of the international space station is concerned. Otherwise, the situation is more in line with the proverb “friendship is friendship, but tobacco is not”. Judge for yourself. Two years ago the International Association “Znanie” in cooperation with the Khrunichev State Research & Production Space Center initiated the International Aerospace System for Global Monitoring (IASGM) project. This system is designed to provide early warning of approaching earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, droughts, floods, landslides, storms, asteroid hazards, and man-made disasters.
– Before moving on to Russian-American cooperation on this issue, can you explain what the creation of the International Aerospace System will do?
– On the one hand, timely information about an impending disaster will allow to evacuate people and partially material values from the danger zone. On the other hand, the IASM system will be of immense help when eliminating the consequences of natural and man-made cataclysms. For example, a tsunami transforms the earth’s surface so that the boundaries of the affected area can be clearly seen from space. This enables to quickly assess the addresses and volumes of required help: where and in what quantities to send rescuers, doctors, medicaments, food, water, clothes, tents and so on.
– Good deed! And what, the Americans did not support you?
– No, members of the International Academy of Astronautics from the United States (as well as from China, France, Germany, India, Italy, Nigeria, Tunisia, Ukraine, and France) voted for our proposal. But the Academy of Astronautics is a non-governmental organization, and has no funds for the creation of IGMASS. Meanwhile, the implementation of this project will require no less than 10 billion dollars. By the way, the sum only seems huge at first sight. But let’s recall what figures are calculated by the consequences of disasters. In 2008, there were 137 natural and 174 man-made disasters in the world, which took the lives of over 240 thousand people. To this we must add the economic consequences in the amount of $269 billion. Alas, at the level of states, we do not always meet understanding, especially when it comes to the space power.
– Does it seem to officials that it is cheaper to fight disasters on their own?
– Yes, unfortunately, it is. And it’s not just cheaper, it’s also easier, because you don’t have to negotiate with anyone outside your nation-state. The U.S. has long been trying to confront global challenges, focusing on solving its purely national problems. But even for a superpower, this is very expensive and ineffective. Joint efforts of the world community are required. Only a global approach will allow each country to minimize costs through a synergetic effect, which is especially important during the global economic downturn. I am convinced that regular communication between the presidents of such great countries as the U.S. and Russia will give a positive impetus to the process of creation of IGMASS.
– And in general, at what stage is this process now?
– Over the past year and a half, the IGMASS project has been hotly discussed at international astronautical conferences in Korolev, Shanghai, Tunis, Glasgow, and Paris. Now the 60th International Space Congress is coming up, which will take place in Daejeon, South Korea, in October 2009. The theme of the congress is “Space for Stable Peace and Progress. The Symposium “Space and the Global Security of Mankind” initiated by the Russian Academy of Cosmonautics will become the final chord in preparing the world scientific community to understand the absolute necessity of the IGMASS project. It will be held in November this year in Limassol, Cyprus, and will be entirely devoted to the launch of the project. The motto of the symposium speaks for itself: “It is more cost-effective to prevent, mitigate and prepare for natural and man-made disasters than to react to their consequences.”
– So, state machines so far seem to be distancing themselves from the creation of a global monitoring system. But does the project have at least some international support?
– What you said is not quite correct: not all states are distancing themselves. For example, in Russia, we have the Federal Space Agency (Roscosmos) on our side and international activities are supported by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov has entrusted the foreign policy supervision of these events to his deputy Alexander Yakovenko, with whom I have an excellent understanding. President Demetris Christofias of Cyprus and a number of other prominent Cypriot politicians have promised us comprehensive assistance. Finally, I secured the endorsement of the symposium from United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. We were also supported by Sarbuland Khan, Executive Director of the UN Global Alliance for Information and Communication Technologies and Development.
– In other words, the Russian IGMASS project has a good chance of being realized. Well, thank you for an informative conversation. We would like to remind you that our guest here is Yefim Malitikov, president of the Znanie International Association and chair of the CIS Interstate Committee for Knowledge Dissemination and Adult Education. I, political observer Viktor Samarin, and my colleague, political scientist Alexander Chernitsky, spoke with him in the Voice of Russia studio.