By JOHN LEICESTER – Associated Press
PARIS (AP) – Without Russian help, climate scientists worry about how to keep up their important work documenting warming in the Arctic.
Europe’s space agency wrestles with how its proposed Mars rover might survive icy nights on the red planet without its Russian heating unit.
And what about the global push for zero-carbon energy when 35 nations collaborating on an experimental fusion reactor in France can’t ship key components from Russia?
In scientific fields with profound implications for the future and knowledge of mankind, Russian President Vladimir Putin’s war in Ukraine is causing a rapid and widespread disintegration of ties and projects that linked Moscow and the West. Post-Cold War bridge-building by science is unraveling as Western nations attempt to punish and isolate the Kremlin by drying up support for scientific programs with Russia.
People also read…
According to scientists, the costs of this decoupling could be high on both sides. Tackling climate change and other issues becomes more difficult and time is wasted without collaboration. Russian and Western scientists have become dependent on each other’s expertise as they have worked together on mysteries, from unlocking the power of atoms to launching probes into space. It will be complicated to unpick the dense web of relationships.
One example is the European Space Agency’s planned Mars rover with Russia. Arrays of Russian sensors to sniff, search and study the planet’s environment may need to be unbolted and replaced and a non-Russian launch vehicle found if the disruption in their cooperation becomes a permanent rupture. In this case, the launch already planned for this year could not take place before 2026.
“We have to unravel all this collaboration that we’ve had, and it’s a very complex process, a painful one, I can tell you that too,” ESA Director Josef Aschbacher said in an interview with the Associated Press. “Dependence on each other, of course, also creates stability and to a certain extent trust, and we will lose that with Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, and we have lost that now.”
International outrage and sanctions against Russia make formal cooperation difficult or impossible. Scientists who have become friends keep in touch informally, but plugs are pulled on their projects large and small. The European Union freezes Russian facilities from its €95 billion ($105 billion) main research fund, suspending payments and saying they will not receive new contracts. Funds and support for projects with Russia are also being withdrawn in Germany, Britain and elsewhere.
In the United States, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology parted ways with a research university it helped establish in Moscow. The oldest and largest university in Estonia does not accept new students from Russia and allied Belarus. President of the Estonian Academy of Sciences Tarmo Soomere says cutting scientific ties is necessary but will also hurt.
“We risk losing much of the momentum that propels our world towards better solutions and (a) brighter future,” he told the AP. “Around the world, we are in danger of losing the essence of science – namely, obtaining new and essential information and passing it on to others.”
Russian scientists are preparing for a painful isolation. An online petition by Russian scientists and research workers opposed to the war says it now has more than 8,000 signers. They warn that by invading Ukraine, Russia has turned into a pariah state, which “means that we usually cannot do our job as scientists because conducting research is impossible without full-fledged collaboration with foreign colleagues “.
The growing alienation is also being fueled by Russian authorities. An order from the Ministry of Science indicated that scientists no longer need to bother having research results published in scientific journals because they will no longer be used as a measure of the quality of their work.
Lev Zelenyi, a senior physicist at Moscow’s Space Research Institute who was involved in the now-suspended ExoMars rover collaboration, described the situation as “tragic” and told the AP via email that he and other Russian scientists are now “learning how to live and work in this new, non-conducive environment.”
For some large collaborations, the future is not clear. Work on the 35-nation ITER fusion energy project in southern France continues, with Russia still among the seven founders sharing the costs and results of the experiment.
ITER spokesman Laban Coblentz said the project remains “a deliberate attempt by countries with different ideologies to physically build something together”. Key components to be supplied by Russia include a massive superconducting magnet, which awaits testing in St Petersburg before shipment – due in a few years.
Researchers looking for elusive dark matter are hoping they don’t lose the more than 1,000 Russian scientists collaborating on experiments at Europe’s nuclear research organization CERN. Joachim Mnich, the director for research and informatics, said the punishment should be reserved for the Russian government, not Russian colleagues. CERN has already suspended Russia’s observer status with the organization, but “we’re not sending anyone home,” Mnich told the AP.
Scientists say that Russian know-how is also missing in other areas. Adrian Muxworthy, a professor at London’s Imperial College, says that in his exploration of the Earth’s magnetic field, Russian-made instruments “can make types of measurements that other Western-made commercial instruments cannot make.” Muxworthy is no longer expecting the delivery of 250-million-year-old Siberian rocks from Russia that he originally wanted to study.
In Germany, atmospheric scientist Markus Rex said the year-long international mission he led to the Arctic in 2019-2020 would be impossible without powerful Russian ships breaking through the ice to resupply their research vessel with food, fuel and other essential supplies been. The invasion of Ukraine is halting this “very close collaboration” as well as future joint efforts to study the effects of climate change, he told the AP.
“It will hurt science. We’re going to lose things,” Rex said. “Just lay out a map and look at the Arctic. It’s extremely difficult to do meaningful research in the Arctic if you ignore the big thing there, Russia.”
“It’s really a nightmare because the Arctic is changing rapidly,” he added. “It will not wait for us to resolve all our political conflicts or ambitions to simply conquer other countries.”
Frank Jordans in Berlin, Jamey Keaten in Geneva and other AP journalists contributed to this report.
Follow AP’s coverage of the war at https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine and on climate issues at https://apnews.com/hub/climate
Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, transcribed or redistributed without permission.