Wednesday, September 28, 2022

Countries maintaining research ties with Russia despite Ukraine

A view of the PIK high-flux beam research reactor at the Konstantinov Institute of Nuclear Physics

A research reactor at Russia’s Konstantinov Institute of Nuclear Physics near St. Petersburg.credit: Peter Kovalev/ITAR-TASS/Alamy

Is Russia’s invasion of Ukraine redrawing the map of international scientific cooperation? While Europe and the United States are moving swiftly to cut long-standing ties, the governments of China, India, South Africa are keeping in touch.

They are members of BRICS, a grouping of five countries – which include Brazil and Russia – that work together to promote trade and economic development, and have an active program of scientific cooperation. Last year, researchers from 5 countries under the umbrella of BRICS organized nearly 100 meetings in a range of fields including astronomy, climate and energy, health and medicine.

Vaccines are an important focus. India and South Africa are leading a campaign for intellectual property relief on COVID-19 vaccines during the pandemic. Last month, all five governments announced a new partnership on vaccine research and development at a launch event on March 22, attended by the ministers of science and health. Russia’s Health Minister Mikhail Murashko said in a statement that the initiative would be based on the first COVID-19 vaccines, which were developed and tested in the BRICS countries. Russia approved its first coronavirus vaccine in August 2020.

And on April 26-27, the national science academies of five countries will host a meeting aimed at sharing data on biodiversity, climate and food security as a means to achieve the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.

Brazil’s research leaders have openly said they are against the invasion. He has also set up a fund for scientists fleeing Ukraine, Russia and other conflict zones to come to Brazil. Researchers in South Africa are also opposed, but it’s hard to determine what scientists in China and India think. None of those contacted agreed to comment for this article. Some researchers in India and South Africa have published open letters condemning the invasion. South Africa’s government is advising research institutions – though not scientists – not to speak on the “political aspects” of the war.

China, India and South Africa are not alone in having ties to Russia. Comstec, an Islamabad-based organization that represents science ministers from 57-member Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) countries, is discussing a long-term science-cooperation agreement with Russia, an observer state for the OIC.

Trends in Russia's science cooperation: Percentage of Russia's internationally co-authored articles in 2011 and 2022.

Source: Scopus.

China’s East-West Balancing Act

The Chinese government says it maintains a “neutral stance” on Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Universities, research organizations and funding agencies are not making public statements, but there are no indications that the collaboration will be affected.

The last decade has seen a steady increase in research publications with authors from both countries (see ‘Trends in Russia’s science cooperation’), although this is in line with China’s research development with many more countries. Physics stands out as popular fields for researchers from China and Russia – particularly physics and astronomy, as well as materials science and engineering.

China and Russia designated 2020-21 a year of scientific and technological innovation, with plans for cooperation in nuclear energy, COVID-19 studies and mathematics, among other fields. Alexander Sergeev, president of the Russian Academy of Sciences in Moscow, is one of the vice presidents of the Alliance of International Science Organizations (ANSO), a 67-member network of research organizations around the world founded by China in 2018.

“Economic sanctions on Russia will have little or no effect on the activities of ANSO,” predicts Qasim Jan, a geologist at Peshawar University in Pakistan and former vice president of ANSO. This is because, they say, “China provides most of ANSO’s funding”. The ANSO project involves five institutions to study the green economic opportunities associated with China, Mongolia and Russia.

Space policy could be ripe for greater cooperation, researchers predict, if Russia permanently withdraws from US and European-led international space cooperation. In 2021, the space agencies of Russia and China agreed to work together to build a base on the moon. It can now be “accelerated and potentially expanded”, says Malcolm Davies, who studies space policy at the Australian Strategic Policy Institute in Canberra.

And since selected Russian banks are now barred from the international financial-transaction platform SWIFT, payments between Russia and China are likely to use the countries’ respective currencies. Murad Ali, head of political science at Malakand University in Chakdara, Pakistan, who studies China’s international finance, says more than 20 countries have similar currency-swap arrangements with China.

In 2015, China also launched an alternative to SWIFT called the Cross-Border Interbank Payment System (CIPS). Before the invasion of Ukraine, the system was used for about US$49 billion in daily transactions, says Lukasz Kobyarski, who studies international relations at the New Europe Institute, a think tank in Warsaw. According to the US Treasury, this compares with the $5 trillion that goes through SWIFT daily. However, the ongoing sanctions on Russia may see an increase in the use of CIPS.

Some Sino-Russia science ties date back at least to the 1950s, explains Isaac Frumin, a higher-education researcher at the Higher School of Economics in Moscow, who is currently on sabbatical in Boston, Massachusetts. This is when neo-communist China adopted the Soviet Union’s model of focusing research into state-funded and state-directed science academies. Fraumin says relations between the two are passing through a turbulent period and China has begun to look to the West for scientific cooperation after the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Some observers are cautioning that China will not want to jeopardize many of its existing scientific partnerships with Europe and the United States. China’s scientific community does not want to be isolated from the West, says Futao Huang, a higher education researcher at Hiroshima University in Japan.

Narendra Modi holds hands of Vladimir Putin and Xi Jinping at the 2019 G20 summit

Vladimir Putin, Narendra Modi and Xi Jinping at the 2019 G20 summit in Osaka, Japan.credit: Mikhail Svetlov/Getty

Modi-Putin Science Plan

Over the past few decades, India has had less scientific cooperation with Russia than with Europe and the United States. But in December 2021, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Russian President Vladimir Putin agreed to strengthen scientific ties between the two countries.

The leaders agreed on a long list of topics on which they would like to see greater cooperation. These include: agriculture and food science and technology, ocean economy, climate, data science, energy, health and medicine, polar research, quantum technologies and water.

This would be in addition to existing relationships in nuclear energy and space. Russia has supplied nuclear reactors and fuel to India, and the countries’ space cooperation dates back to the 1970s. In 1984, Rakesh Sharma, an Indian Air Force pilot, joined the Soviet Union’s Soyuz T-11 campaign, becoming the first person from India to travel to space.

Jagannath Panda, head of the Stockholm Center for South Asian and Indo-Pacific Affairs in Sweden, says the new Modi-Putin science plan will not be affected by the Ukraine invasion. “New Delhi has a vested interest in ensuring such collaboration with a long-standing partner” [Russia] continues despite the disruptions.”

The last time the two countries scaled up their joint projects was in 1987–90, when they established eight collaborative centres, some of which were involved in materials science, advanced computing and Ayurvedic medicine.

India’s largest research partners (as measured by joint publications) are in Europe and the United States. Researchers with knowledge of how the Indian government organizes science told Nature that they do not anticipate these research relationships to change.

However, D. Raghunandan, president of the Delhi Science Forum, a non-profit science-policy organization, predicts that international sanctions will eventually have a more severe impact on India’s research collaboration across the board. He says trade sanctions against Russia mean researchers from India and Russia may be unable to move research material between the countries. In addition, banking sanctions are likely to prevent money being transferred using international banks.

To overcome this, India and Russia are reported to discuss trade with each other using the rupee and ruble instead of the US dollar. However, Raghunandan warns that the sanctions could extend to a ban on technologies that can be used for both military and civilian purposes.

“Monetary sanctions can be taken care of, but they predict trouble for scientists in India if Europe and the United States decide to impose sanctions on countries that have ties with Russia,” says Raghunandan. ” “International cooperation in science will depend on how willing the US and Europe are to lift sanctions. We don’t know how the future will unfold.”

Brazil warns of ‘serious consequences’ for cooperation

Unlike China and India, Brazil is expected to face dire consequences for its joint projects as a result of international economic sanctions against Russia, some Brazilian researchers have reported. Nature. At the same time, scientists and funding agencies are organizing to support allies who need to flee Ukraine or Russia.

Before the invasion, Ricardo Galva, a fusion-energy physicist at the University of So Paulo, was hoping to begin a collaboration with Russia’s two largest physics institutes, the Ioffe Institute in St. Petersburg and the Kurchatov Institute in Moscow. The aim of this project was to measure the energy and rotation in the plasma inside the tokamaks – donut-shaped fusion reactors with powerful magnets.

“Those plans were also destroyed by the missiles of this war,” Galva says. He said there would be minimal delay and increased cost. In the first weeks after the war broke out on 24 February, the ruble lost 20% of its value against the Brazilian real.

Brazil’s research leaders are “clearly against war”, says Gerson Silva, a biochemist at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro and director of FAPERJ, the state’s science funding agency. FAPERJ has launched a funding call for researchers in Rio de Janeiro who want to host scientists fleeing Ukraine, Russia and other conflict zones.

The US$2 million program, which began on March 24, will provide Rio with plane tickets, travel insurance and a monthly stipend of reais 9,000 (approximately US$1,900) for up to a year. Some of Brazil’s 25 other science funding agencies, including FAPESP in So Paulo, are launching similar calls.

The goal is to allow Ukrainian and Russian researchers to continue their work, says biochemist Vania Pascholin, FAPERJ’s coordinator for international relations. “The struggle ends,” she says. “Science doesn’t. Science is always alive.”

Some also disagree with the pressure to cut scientific ties with Russia. Paulo Artaxo, an atmospheric physicist at the University of So Paulo, says: “You can’t exclude Israeli, South African or Russian scientists, because they don’t account for [their] Government action. ,

Deborah Pérez Menezes, president of the Physics Society of Brazil, also opposed the boycott. Perez Menezes, a nuclear physicist at the Federal University of Santa Catarina in Florianópolis, says physics is an allied science and that some of his students have benefited from visiting research institutions in Russia. “Scientists should not personally pay the price of war.”

Nation World News Desk
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