Global Research Community Condemns Russian Invasion of Ukraine
Russia’s unprovoked invasion of Ukraine has sparked a wave of condemnation from scientists and research organizations around the world. Some organizations in Western countries have decided to quickly sever ties with Russia, cutting funding and resources and ending collaborations with Russian scientists. And from Mauritius to Latvia, national science academies and research groups have issued statements strongly critical of the conflict and supporting their Ukrainian colleagues.
In Ukraine, scientists are pressuring nations to exclude Russia from their science programs and calling on Russian institutes and scientific leaders to condemn the invasion.
“There should be a complete boycott of the Russian academic community. No cooperation,” says Maksym Strikha, a physicist at Taras Shevchenko National University in Kyiv, which is in the center of the Ukrainian capital and said the front line was 30 kilometers away. This includes banning articles by Russian authors in Western journals and banning researchers with Russian affiliations from international research teams, he says. “The Russian academic community should also pay its own price for supporting [Russian President Vladimir] Putin.
The chorus of condemnation includes the voices of thousands of scientists in Russia, who say they are appalled by the actions of their government. In a letter organized by researchers in Russia and signed by more than 5,000 people, the scientists strongly condemn the hostilities and say the Russian leadership has launched an unjustifiable war in the name of their “geopolitical ambitions”. The letter includes about 85 scientists who are members of the Russian Academy of Sciences, a government body that oversees much of the nation’s research. One academic, biologist Eugene Koonin of the US National Center for Biotechnology Information in Bethesda, Maryland, resigned his overseas membership citing inaction by the academy’s leadership. (The Russian Academy of Sciences did not respond to Naturerequest for comment.)
Among the strongest measures taken so far is the decision by a group of Germany’s biggest research funders, including the German Research Foundation, to freeze all scientific cooperation with Russia. In a February 25 statement, the group – the Alliance of Scientific Organizations in Germany – says that the country’s research funds will no longer benefit Russia, that no joint scientific events will take place and that no new collaborations will not start. “The Alliance is aware of the consequences of these measures and at the same time deeply regrets them for science,” she said.
“My former student lives in Germany and we always collaborate. She was informed by her superiors that any contact with Russian scientists would be strongly discouraged,” says Mikhail Gelfand, co-organizer of the Russian Scientists’ Letter and professor of biology at the Skoltech Center of Life Sciences in Moscow. “From what I see, this is happening in many places.”
The atmosphere between colleagues in Russia is “terrible”, he says. “Nobody thought it would come to a direct invasion,” he says. “No one thought Russia would attack Kiev.” Gelfand says he hopes there’s a way blanket sanctions won’t hurt individual scientists, many of whom publicly oppose the war.
In the United States, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology at Cambridge has ended its relationship with the Skolkovo Foundation, a non-profit organization based in Moscow and focused on innovation. In 2011, the partners launched the Skolkovo Institute of Science and Technology, or Skoltech, in Moscow. “We take it with deep regret because of our great respect for the Russian people and our deep appreciation for the contributions of the many extraordinary Russian colleagues with whom we have worked,” a Feb. 25 statement from MIT read.
And on February 27, UK Science Minister George Freeman tweeted that he had launched a rapid review of UK government research-innovation funding to Russian recipients.
Ukrainian scientists, meanwhile, are mobilizing to convince international organizations to take stronger action against Russia. More than 130 people have signed an open letter to the European Commission and European Union Member States calling for an urgent suspension of all funding and international collaboration with Russian institutions. “The European Union can no longer provide funding to institutions subordinate to the Putin regime if the EU acts on the basis of the declared values indicated in the EU treaties,” he says.
The letter, initiated by the Ukrainian Council of Young Scientists, says Russia should not be involved in EU programs such as the flagship Horizon Europe research program; the Erasmus+e exchange programme; international collaborations such as the CERN particle physics research laboratory near Geneva, Switzerland; and the international nuclear fusion project ITER. A spokesperson for the European Commission says it has received the letter and that “nothing is on the table”. “The European Union stands with Ukraine and its people,” said the spokesperson.
Another high-profile cancellation is the International Mathematical Union’s quadrennial conference, which awards the prestigious Fields Medal and was due to be held in St. Petersburg in July. After mounting pressure from national mathematical societies and more than 100 of its guest speakers, the union said Feb. 26 it would hold the International Congress of Mathematicians online in light of the dispute.
Some Ukrainian scientists say that while they appreciate the support of their Russian counterparts, the actions announced so far do not go far enough. In particular, Russian academic institutions did not condemn the aggression, says an open letter from the Academy of Sciences of the Higher School of Ukraine. Restrictions on Russian scientists must be comprehensive, they say: “We urge that researchers affiliated with such institutions not be admitted to international grant teams, not invited to international conferences and not published. in leading international scientific journals.
The editorial board of at least one journal, the Journal of Molecular Structuredecided to no longer consider manuscripts written by scientists working in institutions in Russia.
Alexander Kobalov, a Russian-American physicist at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill who co-organized a letter from Russian researchers living abroad, says supporting Ukrainian researchers is the crucial next step. “Right now, many Ukrainians are fighting for their country and some are refugees,” he says. The Western academic community should develop support programs for Ukrainians who need scientific education and training. “I think the labs should be open to them.”