Second, there was a sharp decline in the number of Russian specialists with international experience who were in a position to arrange cooperative programs for academy institutions. Some of their most skilled colleagues had taken more lucrative positions in the private sector and were not replaced. At the same time, so many Western organizations were suddenly interested in arranging cooperative projects that the Russian gatekeepers were overwhelmed. They preferred to put at the head of the line the deal that appeared to be the most financially rewarding for themselves. Fortunately, the activities of the NAS rooted in formal interacademy agreements continued with few disruptions, but occasionally projects were delayed as other more lucrative arrangements received new attention in Moscow.
In short, just as life in Russia was rapidly changing, the character of U.S.-Russian cooperation was undergoing a major transformation as well. But as the opportunities for cooperation expanded dramatically, there was a significant danger that the quality of programs would decline. In some instances, Western enthusiasm to visit previously isolated geographic regions in Russia, to walk through closed facilities, and to drink vodka with new acquaintances with innovative achievements in their résumés pushed considerations of quality and the potential impact of new exchange activities into the background. Perhaps the greatest contribution of the NAS to science during this period of transition was its steadfast determination to demonstrate that quality still mattered in cooperative undertakings. Other, less visible organizations also consistently stressed scientific integrity, but some organizations on both sides of the ocean seemed more interested in having scientific “events” than in advancing science.