Russia’s scientific community not only grapples with isolation from its peers around the world but also with the flight of talented scientists and the freezing of large international projects.
Scientific ties between Russia and other countries began to break during the first days of Moscow’s military operation in Ukraine. For example, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the Australian University, and the European Association of Universities, which unites 850 universities, announced the complete cessation of all interaction with Russian organisations.
Finland, Germany, Poland, Denmark, and Norway have refused joint research and education programs. At best, scientific contacts between the West and Russia have been “frozen” indefinitely.
“This is very disturbing,” Alexander Sergeev, the president of the Russian Academy of Sciences, recently said. “After all, science has long been international, and if for some reason it is in a mode of severe isolation, it has virtually no prospect of being among the leaders,” he added.
“Russian science, which was already in a badly shabby state, has been completely destroyed,” a physics and mathematics scholar and assistant professor at the Moscow Institute of Physics and Technology (MIPT), who wished to remain unnamed, said in an interview with The Insider.
Speaking of the separation of Russia, the post-doctoral scholar said that meaningful scientific research is possible only in an international context.
“If anyone thinks that we will do everything ourselves without cooperation with foreign countries and that we will be able to keep up with world science, to put it mildly, they are very naive,” Alexander Sergeev echoed a similar view. “And, of course, we need to pay special attention to the scientific staff outflow,” he said.
Russia still has a chance to cooperate with the countries that either supported its actions in Ukraine or abstained from voting against Moscow at the UN.
So it’s China, Central Asia, India, and several countries in Africa and Latin America that can help Russia overcome the isolation in the field of science, says Russian education expert Dara Melnik. But such cooperation, he added, will no longer be on equal terms but on forced conditions.
“We do not see a mass staff outflow, as some media say, and this is a good trend. Emotions have subsided, and everyone is responsibly assessing the current situation,” Russia’s Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Chernyshenko said in early April.
Chernyshenko assured that the Russian government would continue the programme of “mega grants” with million-worth funding and modernise the field.
Some of the government’s policies have already led to the opening of more than 270 new laboratories that conduct scientific research in 20 areas in the country.
More than six thousand articles have been published in scientific journals, about fifteen hundred patents for inventions and scientific discoveries have been registered, and more than one thousand educational courses have been created or modernised.
However, scientists are still worried, both for their research and their own well-being. How, for example, can they publish in foreign journals under sanctions? In other words: how can they inform the world about Russian breakthroughs?
Academics also fear an increase in anti-scientific theories, which will be promoted by “patriotically-minded scientists.”
The inability to buy foreign equipment will severely undermine Russian science, and “all those who are tied to the high-tech platform will definitely suffer very seriously,” the scientists believe.
It is no coincidence that even Deputy Prime Minister Chernyshenko emphasised that Russia, today more than ever, needs specific scientific results that can be applied in domestic industry. But to minimise threats to the technological sphere, extraordinary measures on the part of the authorities are needed.
“Otherwise, Russia will lag behind in the high-tech sphere forever,” Sergeev warned.
Sergeev wants the Russian government to develop measures and support the IT industry, whose employees have “fled” the country in large numbers.
Sergeev added that the government’s support should also be extended at least to high-tech scientific institutes because the US and EU sanctions are connected precisely with high technology.
“If earlier we admitted that we were lagging behind the leading countries in many positions, now we have to say directly that we are falling into technological isolation,” Sergeev said.
“Given the current pace of scientific development in the world, three to five years may be a critical period, during which Russia will fall out of the cohort of leaders in many scientific fields,” one of Russia’s leading education consultants, Yegor Yablokov, recently said.
For other experts, if the situation lasts a long time and the Russian government does not find a quick solution to this issue, “it will lead to provincialising of Russian science.”
‘Contacts on a personal level’
According to science journalist Alexandra Borisova-Sale, the backbone of the scientific community actively working in Russia will maintain international contacts on a personal level. But most likely, “such people will face criticism from both sides,” says Borisova-Sale, adding that all scientists in Russia will face a constraining situation regardless of their political position.
“All problems regarding the lack of funding, slow deliveries due to customs regulations, difficult access to international scientific literature will be multiplied by the ruble’s decline, and all sorts of sanctions and restrictions,” she added. But not every expert agrees with Borisova-Sale’s assertion.
In 2018, Vitaly Sergeev, vice-rector for scientific work at Peter the Great St. Petersburg Polytechnic University, said “sanctions stimulate the creation of domestic knowledge-intensive technologies and the development of industries and areas that are completely foreign to us.”
Despite all the pessimism, many academics now believe that the period of sanctions and severance of scientific relations should serve as an incentive for homegrown technological innovation.
Alexander Sergeev, president of the Russian Academy of Sciences, said although the situation is “very complicated,” one should also remember that several decades ago, Russia created the atomic bomb in near-global isolation.
“And 16 years after the war (WWII), it sent the first man into space. More than once, Russia has found itself in seemingly hopeless situations but has always found a way out,” Sergeev added.
Courtesy: TRT World and AFP