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Europe seeks to separate anti-war Russians from R&D freezes

Image: European Union

Moves come as Russian isolation grows and Ukrainian higher education group urges wider action

European research and education organisations are continuing to distance themselves from Russia, but some are stopping short of cutting off all links with Russian researchers and institutions.

On 3 March, the researcher association EuroScience called on its members “to distinguish clearly between the lives and accomplishments of colleagues working in the Russian Federation and the inexcusable military action and policies of the Russian government”.

Its move came as a Ukrainian higher education group called for researchers to sever all ties with Russian universities and research institutions but did not refer to individual Russian researchers.

Ukrainian plea

On 2 March, Ukraine’s National Agency for Higher Education Quality Assurance (NAQA) said the world’s higher education and research sectors “cannot stand aside” in global efforts to isolate Russia following its invasion of Ukraine.

NAQA called on researchers and educators in all countries to stop all cooperation with Russia’s higher education and research institutions and associations, to suspend Russian membership of international networks and to “ensure Russia’s full isolation from the civilised democratic world”.

It said that as the invasion had progressed, it had become “brutally obvious” that Russia’s higher education system had not done enough to uphold the values of democracy and human rights, but stopped short of criticising or praising Russian researchers.

In its statement, EuroScience said that “personal relations among scientists, including relations across borders, are an essential feature” of science. The association sought to “remind all of the world’s leaders of the essential role that the scientific endeavour has played in the past, including in times of war, as a vector for international diplomatic relations”.

Its statement came after the EU announced that it was stopping the agreement of any new collaboration with Russian organisations through EU programmes, blocking EU payments to Russian entities and reviewing all existing research projects involving Russia. 

EuroScience encouraged its members and more Russian researchers to sign an open letter published on 24 February by senior Russian scientists condemning the actions of their government, which has won praise from research and higher education organisations across Europe and the world.

Adopting nuanced positions

Other organisations have also sought to distinguish between Russian actors, with some diverging from the call by NAQA in doing so.

The Ukrainian agency specifically called on the European University Association and several other organisations to suspend the membership of Russian entities. But in a statement published on 2 March, the EUA, which has 16 Russian universities and 25 Ukrainian universities among its members, took a more nuanced stance.

The EUA said it would, “for the time being, cease contact and collaboration with any central government agency of the Russian Federation”, as well as those of any country that supports the invasion, and that it would “reiterate to the leaders of Russian members of EUA, and those of other countries in support of Russia’s actions, the core European values of EUA”.

It advised its members to “ensure on a case-by-case basis that the continuation of existing collaborations is appropriate”, and recommended that university leaders should engage in new collaborations with Russian organisations only “where these are clearly based on shared European values”.

In a similar move to EuroScience, the EUA said it “notes that many Russian academics, at great personal peril, have publicly criticised this invasion”. It said it is providing assistance to Ukrainian universities, as well as to members of the Russian academic community who oppose their government’s actions in Ukraine.

Likewise on 1 March, Science Europe, an association of research funding and performing organisations, called on its members to reconsider any official connections with Russian research institutions but to support Russian scientists “that have the courage to openly condemn this aggression”.