Academic journal

Russian-Western scientific collaboration victim of the war in Ukraine

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Paris (AFP)- For neuroscientist Boris, “everything fell apart” a month ago, when Russia’s invasion of Ukraine sent decades of scientific cooperation with the West back to Earth.

In response to the sanctions and moral outrage caused by the Moscow war, scientific institutes around the world quickly severed their ties with Russia, including the European Space Agency, the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN) and the leading American university MIT.

The international scientific collaboration that had long symbolized the world’s coming together in the aftermath of the Cold War – particularly in space – suddenly had to be abandoned, sending many projects back to the drawing board.

When European Space Agency Director General Josef Aschbacher announced the end of cooperation with Russia, he called it an “agonizing decision”.

The decision meant a long delay for the ExoMars mission, which had planned to use a Russian rocket to put a European rover on Mars later this year to drill for signs of life.

Aschbacher said a launch was not possible until at least 2026 – and ESA could now turn to NASA for help.

It was a blow to the thousands of scientists in Europe and Russia who had been working on the project for years – and came after ExoMars had already been postponed for two years by the Covid-19 pandemic.

“World Cup”

For Boris, a Russian-American living in France who kindly gave his last name, 10 years of work were lost overnight when Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24.

He said he founded a research center in Russia to create “a unique cross-border model in the field of neuroscience”, in which Russian students could travel to different laboratories across Europe.

He told AFP that the project has not been officially cancelled, but “everything is blocked”, in part because doctoral students in Russia can no longer pay for their work due to financial sanctions.

European Rosalind Franklin will no longer board a Russian rocket this year to search for life on Mars BEN STANSALL AFP/File

Other students fled Russia after being threatened with arrest for protesting the war.

“We talk to each other every day via Skype or Zoom… but we are lost, the war is beyond us,” said Boris, whose parents left the USSR in the 1980s when Russia was waging war on Israel. Afghanistan.

“For students who did not experience the Soviet era, it is unimaginable to live in a country cut off from the world. They were truly European in their minds.”

Nearly 8,000 Russian scientists and scholars signed an open letter earlier this month condemning the war after the cancellation of the International Congress of Mathematicians due to be held in St Petersburg in July.

“The many years spent enhancing Russia’s reputation as a major center of mathematics have been utterly shattered,” the letter said, calling Russia “a military aggressor and, therefore, a rogue state.”

“Total boycott” requirement

The influential Russian Academy of Sciences has “called for a cessation of hostilities and addressed foreign researchers to avoid a breakdown in scientific relations”, said Carole Sigman, a researcher at the French National Center for Scientific Research, who has also suspended its collaboration with Russia.

She said there had been an influx of visa applications from Russian scientists to come to France, as well as Ukrainian and Belarusian scientists.

The influential Russian Academy of Sciences has "called for a cessation of hostilities and urged foreign researchers to avoid a severance of scientific relations"
The influential Russian Academy of Sciences ‘called for a cessation of hostilities and urged foreign researchers to avoid a severance of scientific relations’ Kirill KUDRYAVTSEV AFP/File

Several professors from renowned American universities, including Harvard and Cambridge, have called on “the scientific and technological communities to avoid dismissing all Russian scientists for the actions of the Russian government”.

While condemning Russia’s “brutal and unprovoked war”, the professors said in an open letter published Thursday in the journal Science that shutting down all interactions with Russian scientists “would be a serious setback for a variety of Western and global interests and values”.

But for many Ukrainian scientists embroiled in war, it is essential that the world cut off research collaboration with Russia.

Maksym Strikha, a physicist at Taras Shevchenko National University in Kyiv, told Nature earlier this month that “there should be a complete boycott from the Russian academic community. No cooperation.”