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Science

Russia grows isolated in scientific community after Ukraine invasion

International Space Station and vaccine research face potential blow from severed ties

Russia plays a critical role in the International Space Station. (Photo courtesy of JAXA/NASA)

TOKYO -- Russia has withdrawn from or been shut out of many parts of the international community since its invasion of Ukraine, and scientific research is no exception.

The British government on Sunday announced "research and innovation"-related sanctions against Moscow, pausing public funding for projects "with a Russian dimension." This follows a similar move by the European Union, which suspended cooperation with Russia earlier this month.

The rift between Russia and the West could have consequences for efforts to tackle challenges requiring international cooperation, such as fighting the coronavirus and cutting carbon dioxide emissions.

Russia's Sputnik V was the world's first COVID-19 vaccine to be registered for use, getting the green light from Moscow in August 2020. Although there was skepticism early on about how well it would work, a paper published in The Lancet showed an efficacy rate above 90%. The shot is now authorized for use in more than 70 countries.

The International Space Station, in which Russia plays a critical role, is at the center of one of the most conspicuous spats.

Russian space agency Roscosmos tweeted in early March that it would halt joint scientific experiments with Germany aboard the space station in response to sanctions against Moscow. Roscosmos chief Dmitry Rogozin has threatened to stop cooperating with Western partners and hinted at the possibility of pulling out of the station altogether.

While Russia is not as prominent or prolific in scientific research as the Soviet Union was, it is a world leader in fields with potential military applications, such as space and nuclear power.

The country ranked 15th in terms of published papers in 2019. Its research and development spending that year was $39.2 billion in 2015 dollars, according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development -- the ninth-largest in the world but a fraction of U.S. or Chinese spending.

International collaboration has come to play an increasingly important role in scientific research, including Russia's, making ostracism that much more consequential.

Germany, Denmark and the Netherlands are among the countries to have cut off cooperation with Russia. A statement from the Alliance of Science Organizations in Germany on Feb. 25, just after the invasion, condemned it as "an attack on the fundamental values of freedom, democracy and self-determination."

In the U.S., the Massachusetts Institute of Technology ended a decade-long relationship with the Skolkovo Institute of Science and Technology, established in partnership with Moscow.

The Japanese government has not made any decisions on this front. "We don't have any programs like Europe's that provide funding to Russia for international joint research, but we'll monitor the situation and take action appropriately going forward," according to Shinsuke Suematsu, minister of education, culture, sports, science and technology.

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