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How the Ukraine War Is Hurting Russian Science

Sergey Zimov, 66, a scientist who works at Russia's Northeast Science Station, checks materials stored underground in the permafrost at the Pleistocene Park outside the town of Chersky, Sakha (Yakutia) Republic, Russia, September 13, 2021. (REUTERS/Maxim Shemetov/File Photo)
How the Ukraine War Is Hurting Russian Science
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Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has led Western nations to suspend tens of millions of dollars used to support Russian science projects. As a result, hundreds of partnerships between Russian and Western organizations have been canceled or put on hold.

The changes are linked to heavy sanctions placed on Russia by European nations and others. The sanctions aim to punish Russia for its ongoing military offensive in Ukraine.

Reuters news agency spoke with numerous scientists about the effects the war in Ukraine is having on Russian science.

The Russian Science Foundation’s state-supported 2021 budget of $213 million was dependent on aid from India, China, Japan, France, Austria, Germany, and others.

A spokesperson for the foundation did not answer questions from Reuters about how the lack of partner financing would affect its work. The spokesperson said only that the foundation planned to “continue to support leading teams of researchers and their research projects.”

Some of the affected projects involved the building of high-tech research centers in Russia. Among them are an ion collider and a neutron reactor for which Europe promised to give $27.4 million.

Scientists said such centers play an important part in physics research that may result in the development of new materials, fuels, drugs, or other inventions.

Another $16.7 million set aside for the design of low-carbon materials and battery technologies was also frozen. The move came after the European Union stopped all cooperation with Russian organizations last month.

One science project, a research station, has been supported by Germany’s Max Planck Institute for Biogeochemistry. But after Russia invaded Ukraine, the organization stopped financially supporting the station, which studies climate change in the Arctic.

Peter Hergersberg is a spokesperson for the Max Planck Society, which receives money from Germany’s federal government as well as states.

He told Reuters the freeze in financial support will probably lead to a break in continuous measurements at Russia’s Northeast Science Station. The station, which sits on the Kolyma River in Siberia, has been keeping records since 2013.

Hergersberg said researchers there were trying “to keep the station running." He did not say how much money was being withheld from the project.

Scientists who spoke to Reuters said Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has undone years spent building international science cooperation following the Soviet Union’s 1991 collapse.

A lot of communication between scientific organizations is currently stopped and research trips have been postponed.

The former Soviet television station, that is now used by the Northeast Science Station, stands outside the town of Chersky, in Sakha (Yakutia) Republic, Russia on September 14, 2021. (REUTERS/Maxim Shemetov/File Photo)
The former Soviet television station, that is now used by the Northeast Science Station, stands outside the town of Chersky, in Sakha (Yakutia) Republic, Russia on September 14, 2021. (REUTERS/Maxim Shemetov/File Photo)

Arctic concerns

Among the more urgent research efforts on hold are projects to study climate change in the Russian Arctic.

Ted Schuur is a Northern Arizona University ecologist who works with the Permafrost Carbon Network. Permafrost is a layer of soil that is always frozen in cold areas of the world. He said two-thirds of the world’s permafrost area is in Russia, so data from there is very important.

“If you cut off your view of changing permafrost in Russia, you're really cutting off our understanding of global changes to permafrost,” Schuur added.

Scientists see the suspension of financial support for Russian projects as worrying because it could delay important research on climate change. This is especially true as climate change melts the long-frozen ground that holds an estimated 1.5 trillion tons of organic carbon. That is twice the amount already in the atmosphere today.

Scientists fear that as the ground melts, planet warming gases could be released into the atmosphere.

Schuur said while scientists can use satellites to see changes on land, they cannot see what is happening below ground. Scientific teams are needed in the Arctic to study the underground changes.

Russian scientists have collected and shared permafrost field data for years. But as the war in Ukraine continues, Western researchers are not sure about the future of the research efforts.

I’m Gregory Stachel.

Gloria Dickie and Dasha Afanasieva reported this story for Reuters. Gregory Stachel adapted it for our VOA Learning English readers and listeners.


Words in This Story

sanction n. an action that is taken or an order that is given to force a country to obey international laws by limiting or stopping trade with that country, by not allowing economic aid for that country usually plural

collider – n. a machine used to force particles to hit each other at high speed so scientists can study the results

layer – n. the amount of a substance covering a surface

organic – adj. happening or developing naturally over time, without being forced or planned by anyone

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