“Should we give up all scientific cooperation with Russia?”

“A few hours ago, the Russian bombings in Mariupol were aimed at a motherhood and a
pediatric hospital
(…) My colleagues’ request to suspend Russia’s representation rights has not been heard, I ask them to suspend my participation in the activities of the International Astronomical Union. »

A Ukrainian astronomer make this call, March 9, in a public letter as the Russian offensive crosses a new threshold of brutality. In the face of the ordeal inflicted by the Kremlin on the Ukrainian population, he expressed intense indignation, which he called for in the field of scientific cooperation, against his Russian counterparts, even if they were not, a priori, not involved in this tragedy. ⁇


For its part, the Russian government is instrumentalizing international scientific exchanges. On March 12, the Russian space agency released a map of the regions of the world in operation
risks in the event of a crash from the International Space Station (ISS). As a result of the multilateral cooperation initiated between Russia and the United States after the break-up of the USSR, the ISS is considered a scientific and diplomatic success.

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As part of this collaboration, the maintenance of the station in orbit is entrusted to the Russian side, hence the threat. From the first day of the war, on February 24, the Russian agency noted the risk of “uncontrolled desorption” of the station allegedly provoked by the sanctions announced by President Biden in the direction of the Russian space sector. The European Space Agency and NASA immediately denied the risk of a crash and reiterated their desire to continue cooperating despite Russian aggression against Ukraine.

No one will drop the ISS with its crew, and that threat is science fiction.
On the other hand, the catastrophic image of its disintegration in the European sky is capable
shock opinions. It is therefore intimidating, and we understand that scientific cooperation around the ISS is becoming a psychological lever in the hands of President Putin.

Relationship of trust between researchers

The ISS is the subject of cooperation between government space agencies. In fact, she
he fits into the geopolitical sphere and is caught up, despite his scientific vocation, in the turmoil caused by the war in Ukraine. However, scientific cooperation is also developed through non-governmental organizations that escape the influence of political powers and therefore the risk of instrumentalization.

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For example, the International Astronomical Union brings together the learned societies of many countries, all with collegiate governance, whose members are usually elected by their peers. Mention may also be made of the International Union of Pure and Applied Physics or the International Scientific Council. These NGOs are dedicated to coordinating research, teaching and the dissemination of knowledge globally. They organize conferences and teaching assignments, publish books and periodicals, and so on. Above all, they enjoy a real independence from the existing powers, such as the scientific academies and other learned societies that make them up.

These scientific NGOs continue their activity through international crises and
to allow the continuity of scientific cooperation in a space of exchange extracted from the geopolitical context. Scientific collaborations, which lead in a neutral multinational framework, make it possible to maintain a relationship of trust between researchers and to avoid the temptations of rejection favored by conflicts.

Humanistic work

When ties with the global scientific community are severed voluntarily or through sanctions, these NGOs allow scientists to continue their work and collaborations, regardless of their views. When intergovernmental scientific cooperation deviates from its purpose of transmitting threats, as in the case of the ISS, they safeguard science as a humanist work that transcends nations.

Finally, the continuity of cooperation in these NGOs contributes to preparing for peace, while maintaining the common interests that arise from scientific activity. Aware of their role, most of these organizations have issued statements calling on their Russian and Ukrainian members to maintain their scientific exchanges despite the extreme gravity of the situation.

Of course, the scientific community as a whole strongly opposes aggression
of Ukraine by Russia. We sympathize with the dismay and sadness of our comrades
Ukrainians, like this astronomer who wanted to suspend his participation in the International Astronomical Union. However, we must not lose sight of the interest in continuing scientific cooperation and, therefore, in safeguarding the future. There are spaces that allow you to continue collaborating freely. We can only encourage Russian and Ukrainian scientists to take advantage of these spaces of exchange to defend the cause of science as a common good in the service of peace.

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