Norms and Values
The Sanctions Trolley and the Scientific Dead End

On February 24, the attitude of the Western public towards Russians changed overnight. Exactly at once. One can talk about this in terms of the dialectical transition of quantity into quality, one can even name its exact time if you wish. Be that as it may, of course, this has happened before, and more than once. However, in many respects the current change of paradigms and epochs (alas, not the “change of milestones”, from which we have once again moved away) turned out to be unprecedented. Among its various dimensions, we would like to focus on international cooperation in the field of science. And here it is worth paying attention to two aspects - scientific sanctions and the so-called collective responsibility of Russian scientists. 

With regards to the sanctions science, it would make sense to begin with an inevitably tedious digression into the history of the issue. From Thucydides, who first described the trade embargo imposed by the Athenians on Megara (“Megarian psephism”), which became one of the triggers of the Peloponnesian War, to modern research, the classification of sanctions and their legal analysis. However, given the scale of the phenomenon, we confine ourselves to stating that, unfortunately, applied sanctiology appears to be a rather promising area of ​​research, at least for the foreseeable future. It is possible that soon entire departments will open at universities that will deal with this issue. In any case, there are already recognised sanction experts in Russian science. 

Nevertheless, the sanctions in the field of scientific and technical cooperation have so far practically influenced their works. This is not a stone in the garden of colleagues. The matter is, the question was simply irrelevant. After all, even during the last Cold War, the dialogue, not only between individual scientists and research teams, but also between institutions and entire industries on both sides of the Iron Curtain, did not stop; it was expressed in real joint steps. Suffice it to recall the Soyuz-Apollo programme or the interaction between JINR and CERN, not to mention numerous projects and episodes that are less known to the general public.

Norms and Values
From the Demonization of the Enemy to the Demonization of Society: Collective Responsibility and Modern Warfare
Oleg Barabanov
It is obvious that the current divide between Russia and the West is much wider, deeper and more resilient than it has ever been in the past – whether during the Cold War era or at any point in history before February 24, 2022.

In the spring of 2022, the immunity of interaction in this area started to crack. Against the backdrop of the on-going pandemic, a new strain of the sanctions virus hit a vital organ of the international body — global science. We apologise for the pathos, which Thucydides would hardly have appreciated. But the fact remains: in the West, they began to actively talk about the expediency to end contacts with Russian scientific institutions and resolutely moved from words to deeds.

Scientific sanctions, like any other, should be considered from different angles. From the point of view of theory, here one can see the development of enlightenment maxims: sancio ergo sum. Guided by them, the “ergo-marsupial” ghosts roam like Santa Clauses with their sanctions packages and distribute “gifts” to those who, in their opinion, misbehaved. In spiritual terms, it is permissible to talk about the beginnings of what almost amounts to a cult, in which the legitimacy and effectiveness of sanctions are elevated to the rank of commandments. However, in fact, it seems that for the most part, the apologists of such a cult are not slaves of ideological maxims and concepts, but rather, they are orthodoxies with tolerances. To better understand their logic, let’s turn to the trolley meme, which is popular in some circles.

The trolley problem was born in 1967 thanks to the English philosopher and ethicist Philippa Foot. In relation to the current situation, freely interpreted, the problem can be described as follows. The trolley, driven by a rather wayward driver, crashes into a crowd of commuters who were waiting at the station to board other trams. He rapidly crushes them, but it is possible to throw a lever so that the train turns onto a neighbouring track. This track proceeds through a series of branches, each of which has a separate switch (in railway terms — switch street), which leads to a cliff. Having fallen from it, the train with passengers (or at least the locomotive, as well as the first class cars in the front of the train) will break. Moreover, on the rails there are other individuals from among those who did not have time or did not want to buy a ticket. Some of them will also be crushed to death by a tram or left crippled.

The railway switches in this model are obviously the sanctions, the switchmen are those who impose them. With what speed and in what sequence will the switches be thrown? Is it justified to count on the train stopping as a result of one of the passengers or train crew will turn on the emergency brake? Is it necessary to think at all about minimising casualties among those who fell asleep? It’s precisely these questions, apparently, that the participants in an abstract thought experiment and specific political processes are asking themselves, including decision makers in the field of foreign and scientific policy.

In turn, should we, who are to some extent “sanctioned”, indulge in the criticism of “bourgeois” deontology, pointing out to its authors the inconsistencies of the model? It looks like the railway switches don’t work. And where is the safety bumper at the dead end, or at least derailers (if we develop our railway analogy to reflect the well-known example of the “Time Machine”)? In our opinion, they’re practically non-existent. Suffice it to say that, even woven into the lace of “beautiful rhetoric”, scientific sanctions are legally helpless, politically short-sighted, and, moreover, very vulnerable morally. This is evidenced by examples of their use in related fields since Antiquity.
In fact, we are talking about symptoms of diplomatic impotence.

The same applies to the so-called collective guilt of Russian scientists. Our colleague has already addressed this issue in a more general formulation. Projecting these theses onto the object under study, let us pay attention to the fact that in the first post-February articles published in the West, the imperative of a total cessation of cooperation with Russian scientists is postulated until the withdrawal of Russian troops from the territory of Ukraine. And, perhaps then some time after it. Such a long-term ultimatum. On a personal level, communication is still acceptable, whereas on an institutional level, no, no, no.

At the same time, it was emphasised that, they say, among the Russians involved in science, there are also very decent, agreeable people. But they should be “ardent opponents of the regime”, who have already suffered and continue to suffer from it. Therefore, a temporary “ignorance” on the part of the “sanctioners” is unlikely to aggravate their existing plight, and in the long run, even improve their condition or put an end to their suffering. Those who somehow show loyalty are to blame. Yes, and in principle, what’s to be said about them.

Returning to our metaphor, a foreign trolley is rushing towards both types of scientists. One is trying to climb onto the platform. Others cut off their arms and legs. What’s next? The descendants of the Cartesian tribe will understand and forgive. After all, in general, no one is free from guilt, as the anarchist slogan once said.

In further specialised articles, a little vinegar (specificity) and a little pepper (scepticism) were added. In such a way that the authors feel better, and the leadership that guards the discipline does not particularly notice.

If we’re to summarise, as foreign contractors like to do, everything is not so simple. In some areas (for example, in medicine and virology), cooperation is possible and, moreover, vital. Otherwise, everyone will feel very bad. These areas, in contrast to space research, which, according to analysts, are still toxic and have nothing to do with politics. Accordingly, local boycotts and blockades are not capable of altering the determination of Russia’s leaders.

Well, let's hope that at least the emerging trend will continue. Tirades about Vladimir Putin, which are clearly present in the vast majority of materials on the topic, will be replaced by a calmer tone, and a constructive one albeit minimal, but constructive. And if the sanctions trolleys are not decommissioned, then at least they will stand next to an armoured train on a side-track. Which is where they belong.

Norms and Values
The First Six Months of the New Reality
Oleg Barabanov
August 24 marks six months since the announcement by the leadership of the Russian Federation of a special military operation in Ukraine. It and the response of the West have formed a fundamentally new geopolitical and geo-economic reality; not only for the warring parties, but for the whole world. In any case, the challenges posed to world energy and food security are obviously global in nature.
Views expressed are of individual Members and Contributors, rather than the Club's, unless explicitly stated otherwise.