A price to pay: What science diplomacy means in wartime

German Federal Minister for Foreign Affairs Annalena Baerbock rightly stated on the morning of 24 February: “Today we woke up in a different world.” On the evening of the same day, Germany’s Chancellor Olaf Scholz described the Russian army’s attack on Ukraine as an “attempt to violently move borders within Europe, maybe even wipe an entire country off the world map”.

Yes, that’s exactly how the Ukrainians feel, as a colleague from Kyiv told me the next day: “We Kievans feel like the people of Warsaw did in September 1939 – today it’s us, tomorrow it could be someone else.”

These days, German, European and transatlantic politics are about overcoming the state of shock we have been in after the start of the Russian invasion of Ukraine and reacting to a world which has changed fundamentally since Thursday morning when it comes to our own political and economic decisions – to support the Ukrainians, to sanction and isolate the government of the Russian Federation and to protect the European Union and NATO territory.

In view of the enormous ties between Germany and Russia as well as Germany and Ukraine in the field of science, very fundamental questions also arise for German universities, for non-university research institutions and for all other scientific organisations in this new world.

For German science, the Alliance of Science Organisations in Germany has made it very clear that we are in full solidarity with Ukraine, that nothing can justify the Russian attack and that science organisations are restricting or banning cooperation with Russia as part of their specific tasks and missions. This process now needs to be specified.

‘Change by exchange’

In his government statement in the German Bundestag on 27 February, Chancellor Scholz outlined the overall strategy of the Federal Republic of Germany.

In the new world outlined by the chancellor, in which the power of the mighty is challenging the might of the law, it is important to note that investments in our defence readiness and investments in foreign cultural and educational policy are not opposites but equal parts of an overall strategy for a value-based foreign policy.

I welcome the fact that Germany’s foreign policy remains committed to the claim of “as much diplomacy as possible without being naïve”, as Chancellor Scholz put it. Science has contributed and continues to contribute to diplomacy – in the sense of science diplomacy – to a considerable extent. However, the question arises as to how our foreign science policy should specifically react to the turning point of 24 February.

For the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD), which has always relied on ‘change by exchange’, even in extremely difficult contexts, what we formulated in October 2021 in our key issues paper “Taking more responsibility in a globally networked world” is the guiding principle.

What we stated there with regard to so-called ‘fragile contexts’ is particularly relevant for Ukraine: “In such situations, we have to develop strategies for local people and their educational prospects, but with a view to controlling unavoidable refugee movements through the implementation of effective programmes. Special attention must be paid to protecting threatened and persecuted scientists’ and students’ lives.”

Since 24 February, German universities and many researchers, teachers and students have taken the initiative to look after their Ukrainian colleagues and fellow students.

We know of aid funds set up by universities and of numerous university members who have picked up Ukrainian people seeking protection from the Polish border and provided them with accommodation. They have all recognised that Ukrainians need support in their deeply vulnerable situation, and that cannot be overstated.

A federal support programme for universities

At the same time, a commitment to helping individuals will not be enough in view of the possibly prolonged war situation or even a Russian occupation regime throughout Ukraine. Therefore, we need a large support programme for the German universities financed by the federal government as quickly as possible so that they can help in this crisis.

This support programme should include the pillars that have proven their worth in other fragile contexts:

• Scholarships for the Ukrainian students, doctoral candidates and scientists who will come to us in the coming weeks and months, as well as the unbureaucratic extension of funding for those who are already with us.

• Support for German universities in supervising and helping Ukrainians through the funding period and beyond.

• Support for German universities to help Ukrainians with the professional and linguistic further qualifications they need to enter the German labour market.

• Support for German universities in the development and provision of digital offerings for their Ukrainian partner universities as long as they can continue to operate.

• Leadership programmes for future managers who take on managerial responsibilities in Ukraine after the situation has stabilised at a later date.

In the case of students, in particular, it will be our task to optimally support them in all four relevant phases (1. Preparation for their studies, 2. Starting their studies, 3. Continuing their studies, 4. Transition to the job market as qualified specialists). Because of the special trauma they will be facing, this also includes comprehensive psychological care.

We mustn’t delude ourselves. In view of the already emerging refugee and immigration flows from Ukraine, this will have to be a gigantic support programme. But if we really want to help the Ukrainians who are leaving their country and are looking for a future through our universities, the federal government must spare no expense.

According to all the reports we have received from German universities since 24 February, we know that our universities, their employees and students are ready to make their contribution. They need the support that is now necessary and in a timely manner. As the DAAD, we are also committed to large-scale European aid programmes.

Scientific relations with Russia

Traditionally, our academic relations with Russia have been very close. This is precisely why the developments in Russia over the past few years, with an increasingly aggressive foreign policy and an increasingly repressive domestic policy, have been so painful for us.

After 24 February, it is now necessary to make adjustments to our foreign academic policy relations with Russia.

When it comes to our funding activities as the DAAD, but also to advising German universities through our Competence Centre for International Academic Collaborations (KIWi), the following statement from the key issues paper “Taking more responsibility in a globally networked world” in October 2021 is the essential starting point: “German science must be willing to work together with countries with different legal and value systems, as far as this is justifiable and responsible. It is important to present our own interests to partners and to stand up for our values.”

Even in October, we explicitly referred to the Russian Federation as a scientific partner country that “is tending to move away from common positions and values”.

And ever since the annexation of Crimea, in violation of international law, we in the academic community have been refusing, for example, to take part in joint high-level meetings with Russian representatives from Crimea.

We also took this position in the German-Russian year of science in 2019-20 and thus represented our view of international law and our values – and at the same time kept the channels of communication with Russia open.

But now we have to ask much more fundamentally what is still justifiable and responsible within the framework of the overall strategy of the German federal government and the European Union.

Therefore, we have drawn the following conclusions:

• The DAAD has suspended funding for the mobility of researchers and students from Germany to Russia. If the Russian state is to be economically isolated with far-reaching sanctions, the exchange relationships promoted with German tax money must also be restricted because these are ultimately also associated with financial inflows to Russia.

• The same applies to joint German-Russian events within the framework of university cooperation which are funded by the DAAD. These are also to be suspended. In this way, we want to prevent the project activities and results, which are (co)financed by Germany, from being made visible as Russian successes – and possibly misunderstood as a sign of ‘business as usual’.

• We are also suspending all talks with representatives of the Russian state, such as in the ministries, for the time being, as well as all official meetings in institutionalised contexts with state institutions. In the scientific sphere, too, we have to do our part in isolating Russia’s political elite.

• On the other hand, we, of course, want to continue to support the many Russian scientists and students who are with us or who want to come to us in the near future after successful applications, for example, through DAAD scholarships.

We are not restricting the promotion of mobility from Russia to Germany at this point in time. On the contrary, we feel that keeping the channels of communication and exchange platforms open for as long as possible is in our own interests and shows that we do not want to sanction the Russians, but the Russian state.

• Many of our colleagues, our friends at Russian universities and scientific institutions are just as appalled by their government as we are. Many are also publicly critical of the war of aggression against Ukraine – and accept considerable risks and repression to express those views.

We want to recognise this and strengthen the forces that are critical of the government. This is also done by consistently distinguishing between the Russian government and Russian citizens and by not allowing our Russian friends to be taken hostage by the Putin government.

A price to pay

These measures mean considerable restrictions in German-Russian scientific cooperation and in German-Russian exchange relations. We consider these restrictions to be unavoidable. In science, however, we must be willing to pay this price if we take seriously the fact that, in such a crisis and war situation, our foreign science policy action must be in line with the overall strategy of the German federal government and the European Union.

Science diplomacy towards Russia will demand a lot from us in the foreseeable future – there is no way of sugar-coating this.

In this way, we in the world of science want to make a small contribution to helping our Ukrainian partners and Ukrainian refugees to isolate the Russian state and to strengthen our Russian partners who are critical of the government.

Joybrato Mukherjee is president of the University of Giessen in Germany and president of the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD). This article was first published on journalist Jan-Martin Wiarda’s blog.