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Ukraine conflict hurts Russian science, as West pulls funding | Reuters

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Many expressed concern about its future after tens of millions of dollars in Western funding for Russian science has been suspended in the wake of European sanctions on Moscow.Hundreds of partnerships between Russian and Western institutions have been paused if not canceled altogether, the scientists said, as the invasion has unraveled years spent building international cooperation following the Soviet Union's 1991 collapse.Many communication channels are closed and research trips have been postponed indefinitely.The projects affected by the suspension of Western assistance include the construction of high-tech research facilities in Russia, such as an ion collider and a neutron reactor for which Europe had pledged 25 million euros ($27.4 million).Such technology would unlock a generation of research that could contribute to everything from fundamental physics to the development of new materials, fuels and pharmaceuticals, scientists said.Another 15 million-euro ($16.7 million) contribution toward designing low-carbon materials and battery technologies needed in the energy transition to combat climate change has also been frozen, after the European Union halted all cooperation with Russian entities last month."Emotionally, I can understand this suspension," said Dmitry Shchepashchenko, a Russian environmental scientist who studies global forest cover and has been affiliated with the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis in Austria since 2007.But for science overall, he said: "This is a lose-lose solution. Those datasets were also patchy, due to limited funding to cover the vast region.Arctic ecologist Sue Natali, at U.S. Woodwell Climate Research Center, said her project's plans for boosting Russian monitoring capability is on hold."Instrumentation that was supposed to go out this year has been halted," she said, as her colleagues' travel plans have been canceled.The U.S. government has issued no clear directive on interacting with Russian institutions, contrary to the European stance.A State Department spokesperson told Reuters: "We do not hold the people of Russia responsible [for the conflict], and believe that continued direct engagement with the Russian people is essential – including in science and technology fields."SCIENCE AS COLLATERAL DAMAGEProjects under the Russian Science Foundation's state-funded 2021 budget of 22.9 billion rubles ($213 million) had relied on partnerships with India, China, Japan, France, Austria, and Germany, among others.A spokesperson did not answer Reuters questions about how the halt in European collaboration would affect its work, saying only that the foundation would "continue to support leading teams of researchers and their research projects."European scientists had been helping to build Russian research sites including the neutron reactor and the ion collider near St. Petersburg, said Martin Sandhop, a coordinator on this EU-funded effort called CremlinPlus.The facilities would help to drive research in fields like high-energy physics, biochemistry and materials science.But plans for a 25-million-euro project extension are now suspended and Sandhop's team is redirecting experts and equipment toward European institutions.Cremlin's neutron detectors needed for the planned reactor, for example, are now going to a facility in Lund, Sweden.Even if Russia manages to complete the expansion works, it's unclear how valuable the work will be without the suite of tools at Western institutions to analyse the data.Physicist Efim Khazanov at the Institute of Applied Physics in Nizhny Novgorod, near Moscow, said not having access to European equipment would hurt his work using a high-energy laser to study topics such as the structure of spacetime in a vacuum, which could expand our understanding of the universe.Khazanov was among thousands of Russian scientists who signed an open letter, posted on the independent online science publication Troitskiy Variant, saying Russia had "doomed itself to international isolation" with its invasion of Ukraine.Many Russian scientists also fled the country, said Alexander Sergeev, head of the Russian Academy of Sciences, according to Interfax state news agency.The protest letter was temporarily removed from the site after Russia passed a law March 4 criminalizing "fake news" on the Ukraine campaign.That day, a letter was published on the state Russian Rectors' Union website in support of Russia's invasion and signed by more than 300 leading scientists, who have since been suspended from European University Association membership.While foreign funding represents just a small part of Russia's scientific spending, its scientists relied on that money to keep projects and careers afloat."Those joint research grants were helping a lot of Russians," lamented Russian geographer Dmitry Streletskiy, at George Washington University in Washington, D.C.

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