By John Holdren, Nina Fedoroff, Neal Lane, Nick Talbot and Toby Spribille
Russian President Vladimir Putin’s brutal, unprovoked war against Ukraine deserves all the opprobrium it has received around the world. This abomination warrants every appropriately sized and targeted sanction against the Putin regime that the horrified world can devise. Sizing and targeting sanctions to ensure that their impact on Putin and his designs exceeds the downsides for Western and global interests requires some reflection, however. Such reflection should not be pushed aside in the understandable heat and anguish of the moment. As Western scientists who have engaged in international collaborations in many forms on many topics, we welcome the outpouring of support across the West for Ukrainian scientists, including the introduction of protected visa status for Ukrainians (1). At the same time, we urge that our nations’ policy-makers and our science and technology communities avoid shunning all Russian scientists for the actions of the Russian government.
Nearly all government-to-government collaboration is understandably on hold now, but not all engagement with Russian scientists should be. Shutting down all interaction with Russian scientists would be a serious setback to a variety of Western and global interests and values, which include making rapid progress on global challenges related to science and technology, maintaining nonideological lines of communication across national boundaries, and opposing ideological stereotyping and indiscriminate persecution.
Many thousands of Russian academics and students live and work in the West. Many of them have criticized the Russian government in the media or have signed widely circulated statements by Russian academics and intellectuals denouncing the Russian invasion [e.g., (2)]. Surely these Russians should not be lumped together with leaders of the Russian state. Rather, humanitarian provision should be made to ensure that, as their visas and passports expire, they are not forcibly repatriated to face not only isolation from their Western colleagues but also, very possibly, persecution.
Decisions made in Western countries today about how to deal with Russia and Russians may be in place for a long time and, ultimately, difficult to reverse. We fervently hope that all future decisions about Russian scientists and Russian academic institutions will reflect a balanced appraisal that weighs the likely effectiveness of the measures under consideration in punishing or deterring the Russian state against the undesired adverse impacts on Western and global interests and values.
References and Notes
1. US Department of Homeland Security, “Secretary Mayorkas designates Ukraine for temporary protected status for 18 months” (2022); www.dhs.gov/news/2022/03/03/secretary-mayorkas-designates-ukraine-temporary-protected-status-18-months.
2. “4,000+ Russian scientists, science journalists pen open letter against Ukraine war,” Science the Wire (2022); https://science.thewire.in/the-sciences/4750-russian-scientists-science-journalists-sign-open-letter-against-ukraine-war/.