On Scientific collaborations with Russian institutions

Unfortunately, it is not just the Russian president who started the war, this idea is based on misunderstanding of the Russian society. Some responsibility is shared by most Russians, even those who "only" quietly disapprove.
Very different degrees of responsibility, of course.

A minor fraction of responsibility is also shared by those who enabled Russia in the last 8 years, for example Germany: of course they were hoping for peace and collaboration, and it's regrettable that they were wrong, but they were wrong.
It is possible to point this out and assign some fraction of responsibility without equating the past "Russia-appeasers" to pro-war Russians.

I personally reached out and discussed the situation with my Russian collaborators. Clearly, most of my Russian colleagues are shocked, ashamed of this war. They did not realize where Putin leads them, even if they supported him. They were wrong. Until this war, I maintained some more personal and very fruitful collaborations, while avoiding to visit Russia or engage in institutional projects. Despite the Crimea.

Now, I cut all common projects.
Regrettable, but necessary.
It may be a surprise to some western colleagues, but most of them react to this suspension of collaboration with understanding. Decent researchers have plenty of opportunities to move out of Russia, and many already did.

So, is it so useful to hurt innocent scientists?
Cutting ties with Russian state academia will:
  • make a symbolic point, hurt the state prestige, make it clear that "business as usual" is not possible.
  • isolate individual decent scientists who are "only" guilty of inaction, and who have an option to move to the west
  • hurt my own scientific prospects: but only in a way which is quite modest comparing the backlash of sanctions accepted by the entire population.

Weighting the positive and negative effects, at this time, for me, the proportional response is clearly to suspend collaborations with Russian state-affiliated researchers.

I would also respectfully suggest that those colleagues who oppose such a move do not fully realize the gravity of the situation, and the scale of Russia's intentions.
In many ways, this crisis is the largest challenge to the liberal world order since WWII. Those in a safe place with no direct personal stake may not be sensitive enough to realize this. I do not agree that science is above moral values, it represents some the best aspirations of the humanity and can not be completely neutral.

Finally, should we also boycott the US or any another state for "similarly" questionable actions? There has to be some sense of proportionality. Some actions are worse than other. I certainly always took into account my values when choosing research positions and collaborations. I think more people should do that. And maybe those who do not, will consider doing it in the future, proportionally.

I am considering another form of making a statement in scientific collaboration with Russian scientists: adding a sentence condemning the war in acknowledgements, such as:

The authors would like to express their sorrow and regret about what happens in Ukraine. The authors stand against the sorrowful and bloody aggression of the Russian Federation against sovereign Ukraine

👉 But NATO has provoked and threatened Russia by expanding?

NATO has plenty of borders with Russia, even more since 2022, which is, apparently, only of a moderate concern for Russian government. But possibility of Ukraine joining NATO has posed a much bigger problem. Is this true or just an excuse? And if it is true, why? I propose that while it is largely an excuse, it is also true that Ukraine joining NATO was indeed a big problem for Russia. But the only reason why it is a bigger problem, is because Russia had other plans for Ukraine.

It is sometimes forgotten, but in 2014 the protests were not just because of withdrawing form EU association. The alternative was no neutrality - but a Eurasian Economic Union, creating much closer ties between Ukraine with Russia. Before 2014, every ukrainan government was balancing between europeran and eurasian integration. But as Russia became stronger, it pushed for making a choice, leveraging ukrainian dependency on russian gas. On the other hand, ECB support was also reducing, conditional on reforms to address corruption. The ukrainian government of 2014 was not at all interested in dealing with corruption, and went for the "safer" Russian support instead.

So, what Russia calls "legitimate security concerns" was infact primarily motivated by their desire to expand sphere of influence - through creating new economic ties with Ukraine. Arguably, there is nothing wrong in proposing to create new economic ties. But it is wrong to start a war to achieve this goal.

Clearly, Ukraine moving away from Russia was unfavorable for Russia - so Russian interests were affected. But, crucially, under international consensus Ukraine had a right to do this out of its own sovereign agency.

👉 Ukraine was manipulated by US, NATO, EU?

Clearly, US, NATO, EU, China, African grain importers, and other actors have more or less strong ideas about what they want from Ukraine. They have a right to do that. And they clearly can excersise their influence to promote their goals. Clearly, there is some limit to this. It is commonly considered that external comments in country internal policy is not ideal. This principle is not followed particularly strictly. Reconsidering trade relations, using economic pressure is another tool which is frequently used and is indeed considered valid. Direct military intervention is not considered acceptable except in response to clear and systemic human right violation.

Crucially, even with any reasonable external influence, it should be recognized that Ukraine has a fundamental sovereign right to choose its path. Any individual, collective, or nation, is subject to influences. But it is essential to establish the individual/collective/nation rights, as the basis for relations.

👉 After the coup of 2014, ukrainian government can not be legitimate?

Transition of power in Ukraine in 2014 was clearly problematic. It was triggered most of all by a sequence of mistakes made by the ukrainian president at the time. Arguably, this is one of the "failsafe" mechanisms of representative democracy, allowing to correct for major deviations of the representavies from the path for which they were elected. There is formal description of this process.
After 2014, there were several elections in Ukraine, and nobody, even Russia, challenged the process of these elections.
The entire international community, Russia included, continued to work with post-2014 Ukrainian governments as legitimate ones

👉 After the coup of 2014, ukrainian government was oppressing Russian speakers, especially in Donbas?

My family and I were predinantly russian speaking, and we never experienced any oppression. We have Russian relatives, and I had professional ties. Even despite the 2014 events. There were some changes since 2014, but not substantial. In Donbas, Russia supported the minority separatist rebellion, stirred up on false information about Ukraine outlawing russian language.

In 2014 - 2022, even Kyiv - the "sit of the ukrainian nationalist government" remained mostly russian-speaking.
Anti-russian sentiment became mainstream in Ukraine since 2022 - and nobody did more for this than Russia itself.

👉 But Ukraine glorifies nazies and nazi collaborators?

Some people who fought for ukrainian nation in WWII decided to side with Nazi Germany against Russia. We do not glorify them for their nazi position, even if it's only purpose was to oppose the Russian domination. We recognize and highlight their struggle for the independence of Ukraine.
It is possible to recognize that a historical figure was right in some of the aspects of their position, and wrong in the other.

There might very well be some people in Ukraine at this time who have views, for example on race, with which I strongly disagree. It's clear, from the repeated election results these people are in an extreme minority. Some of them might be even in the army.
I can disagree with people on some questions, and agree on a very strong common principle - russian invasion of Ukraine must be stopped.

Controversially, the the claims of genocide of russian-speaking minority in Donbas would be true - i.e. if what russia said was true - I could understand a need for external action.
But, as formely predominatly russian-speaking person, with family ties in the east of Ukraine and in Russia, I know these claims to be false.
The invastion of 2022 with its justificiation was just as absurd as it was shocking. In retrospect, Russia just decided to advance its economic goals by military means, we just did not realize how little they care for basic standards of international cooperation and for the thruth.

👉 But NATO has invaded Irak?

The US should take responsibility for their actions in Irak and similar. Arguably, there was a broad consensus that the invasion is justified. I'd hope the comminity will learn to deal with these situations in a more structured and organized way, with responsibility attached.

Bad actions in the past do not justify new, even worse, actions. The standard should be maintained and raised, not lowered.