How is Western science reacting to Russa’s actions?

As everyone’s aware, Russia’s recent military action in Ukraine has sent shockwaves through the political world – and it’s affecting the science community as well. This article in Nature News describes how scientific relations between the West and Russia are currently at their lowest since the Cold War, with both NATO and NASA cutting their ties with Russia this month.

This may seem insignificant, but these agencies organise extremely important science research, including anti-terror technology. NASA has even suspended all meetings and e-mails with Russian Space Agencies, which could have a serious knock-on effect in the collaborations there.

Furthermore, the UN and EU have imposed sanctions on several key Russian government ministers, including Vladimir Putin’s personal science adviser.

Harley Balzer, specialist in international affairs with Russian politics at Georgetown University, says that if Russia continue to advance into the Ukraine ‘cutbacks on all sorts of academic exchange programmes and scientific collaborations will inevitably follow’. This could seriously affect funding for scholarships and exchanges with Russia, isolating young scientists who rely on such activities to kick start their career. President Putin’s actions could also ruin Russian’s efforts to improve their own education system, by severing their international collaborations with other academic institutions and putting off foreign students and researchers.

One project which could suffer considerably from Russia’s actions is the current building of the Skolkovo Institute of Science and Technology (Skoltech) on the outskirts of Moscow. This requires considerable funding from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), which may find themselves under pressure to put a halt to this endeavour, should matters in Ukraine worsen.

The last thing the scientific community wants if for vital research and technology to be disrupted or, even worse, abandoned because of Russia’s political decisions. Oleg Kharkhordin, rector of Russia’s European University at St Petersburg states that ‘it should really be the interest of both sides to foster free scientific exchange“, suggesting that, regardless of one’s personal feelings towards Russia’s decisions on the political stage, the progress of science should not suffer as a result.

As scientists, we can only hope that Russia’s decisions don’t cause permanent and irreversible damage to the research community both within Russia and elsewhere but, I’m sure we all agree, the sooner the matter is resolved the better.

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