Physics Sanctions

“Window to the West”: how will the fate of the last channel of interaction between Russian physicists and CERN be decided?

Joint Institute for Nuclear Research (JINR) in Dubna and the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERNmay break off long-standing official relations as early as June 20 . Before the vote, the Ukrainian representative at CERN said that there were spies hiding among Russian physicists, stealing technologies forwar machine , and former KGB officerVladimir Putinin response came to Dubna and, as a PR campaign,kicked off the technological launch of the NICA collider », during which he convinced scientists from all over the world of the openness of the country. It is possible that the CERN Council may interpret this signal ofcoercion to scientific cooperationin exactly the opposite way, according to those interviewed T-invariant physics. In any case, the scale of participation of domestic scientists in advanced high-energy physics experiments will decrease even with the start of full-fledged operation of NICA.

“We are not closing anything”

On June 20, the international council of CERN, which includes 23 member states, is due to vote on the issue of extending the cooperation agreement with JINR. The end of June-beginning of July is the deadline for CERN management to make a decision on the status of its official relations with the international organization in Dubna, since the current agreement ends in January 2025, and according to CERN documents it is obliged to make a decision in six months.

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As before reported T -invariant, now to issue new passes for business trips to CERN, Russian and Belarusian scientists come specifically to Dubna, to JINR (this opportunity will end if CERN at the next meeting decides to suspend the agreement), previously issued passes for Russian scientists, programmers and engineers will be valid until November 30, 2024.

The decision to sever relations and, in fact, to liquidate the last official channel of relations with Russia and Belarus is not easy. At the end of March 2024, the international council of CERN did not make a decision on the issue of relations with Dubna after the vote. As T-invariant found out, it was not possible to get ⅔ votes for non-renewal of the contract. Germany abstained from voting and this played a decisive role on that day.    

Over the next two and a half months, the participating countries took a number of diplomatic and other measures in order to win over more supporters. The greatest activity occurred in June. So, on June 5, the Times published a large article Nuclear research body is backdoor for Russian spies, says Ukraine, in in which Ukrainian materials scientist Boris Grinev, a member of the Ukrainian Academy of Sciences, stated that the participation of Russian specialists in the work of CERN “feeds the Russian war machine” and that thanks to cooperation with JINR, CERN continues to be “infiltrated by Russian spies.” Grinev, who is the representative of Ukraine at CERN and the former plenipotentiary representative of the Ukrainian government at JINR (from 1997 to 2022 with a short break), called on fellow physicists to vote against extending the agreement with Dubna.

In response, the Center’s press service carefully stated that CERN is a peaceful and open organization. But on June 13, Putin unexpectedly came up with a more striking answer. He came to Dubna, where, in addition to meeting with mega-grant scientists, he “kicked off the technological launch of the NICA collider.” Of course, this was a PR action on Putin’s part in support of his statements about complete openness to cooperation of the international organization JINR and Russian science in general.

“Such checks of circuits and magnets in the accelerator are now carried out regularly, this is part of debugging, but now they have made a PR show out of it,” a physicist, one of the JINR employees, explained to T-invariant. According to him, Putin’s visit did not change the launch plans in any way.collider. “The start of work on launching NICA is planned for the end of 2024 or the beginning of 2025, the receipt of the first technical (but not yet physical) data for 2025 and full-fledged work no earlier than the end of 2025. If everything goes according to plan, everything will be gradual,” says T-invariant’s interlocutor.

“We don’t close anything, we don’t hide anything, we don’t lock anything. We are open to cooperation… Russia is open to the results of the work of Russian scientists being used in other countries,” transmits TASS Putin’s words.

Visit of the President of the Russian Federation to Dubna, non-binding “start-up” and meeting with mega-grantees, conversation with whom was built around how they returned to work in Russia or continue to successfully work for two countries. All this happened exactly a week before the meeting at CERN not by chance, we are sure many Russian physicists, including T-invariant interlocutors – both in Dubna and at CERN. Of course, Putin’s speech at the Russian Foreign Ministry also had an impact. “Not for the better,” notes one of T-invariant’s interlocutors at CERN.

CERN. Source: official website

Ukrainian physicists responded to Putin’s visit to JINR immediately. Ukrainian physicist Tatyana Berger-Grinova, leader of one of the groups in the ATLAS experiment, sent a detailed letter to a wide range of recipients on the CERN mailing list with quotes from statements made in Dubna by Putin, Deputy Prime Minister Chernyshenko and JINR Head Grigory Trubnikov – all with links to kremlin. ru. At the end of the letter (available to T-invariant) the following conclusion is made: “This visit well demonstrates the position of JINR as an organization working in the interests of the Russian military complex, just a few days before the CERN Council made a decision on cooperation between CERN and JINR.”

At the same time, as the head of one of the research groups at CERN notes, most of the major Russian scientific chiefs are also for severing any relations with CERN. Among them is the president of the Kurchatov Institute Research Center and the Polytechnic Museum, Mikhail Kovalchuk, who is considered the “man of science” closest to Putin. “From this point of view, it is not at all clear what exactly Putin’s visit to Dubna looks like. How exactly the delegates of the CERN Council countries consider the signal is not clear, we will find out on June 20,” T-invariant’s interlocutor doubts.

There is still a chance that JINR can remain a kind of “window to the West” for Russian physicists, says physicist, co-founder of Dissernet Andrei Rostovtsev, who is part of the association of scientists Science4Peace, which is now active is engaged searching for a solution for the further participation of domestic specialists in CERN. “It is not known howmedia attempts by Ukrainian physicists will influence CERN’s decision, but Council members will vote as their governments recommend to them before the vote, this is already common knowledge” , explains Rostovtsev.

If not CERN, then who and what?

In March, after publications T-invariant about the active search for a “neutral flag” for Russian physicists (an organization from which domestic scientists could receive affiliation to work at CERN), a number of publications appeared in the Russian official media about Russia’s significant and even decisive contribution to the development of CERN and about the new prospects that are opening up for physicists in Russia and “in the East,” primarily in China. At the same time, President KurchatovskyInstitute Mikhail Kovalchuk called CERN’s decision to stop cooperation with hundreds of specialists working at universities and research institutes in Russia a “gift” for Russia.

“The lion’s share of Russian specialists from CERN are employees of the Kurchatov Institute, these are our employees. In fact, the return of these people, trained by us, brought up by us, our ideologically and scientifically, is a gift for us,” he stated he told TASS.

Then the first deputy chairman of the Duma Committee on Science and Higher Education (more recently the rector of the Russian Chemical Technology University), Alexander Mazhuga said that CERN specialists would suffer from the severance of scientific ties. “Our scientists made a significant contribution to the development of nuclear physics, and the research that was carried out expanded the horizons of world science. This is yet another proof that our country has chosen the right path in creating its own megascience-class installations,” quotes its publication “Vedomosti”.

“I don’t know a single colleague who left Dubna to work in China in the last two years, but I know a large number of people who left for Germany and the USA, I personally know dozens of people. You also need to understand that NICA, even with a successful launch, will never become an alternative to the LHC; the size and scale are not the same. Therefore, no one takes Kovalchuk’s words seriously and I don’t hear such opinions from my colleagues,” says a physicist working at JINR.

Also, in his opinion, many people who have not found a good place in Western universities with access to serious experiments at CERN, “simply go to good positions in IT.”

Unfortunately, NICA will most likely become a secondary project in high-energy physics and its “internationality” is quite limited, says one of the physicists involved in the launch of the accelerator, who agreed to talk with T -invariant on condition of anonymity.

“The turn to the East at JINR was so strong that they ended up in Latin America: people come to us en masse from Mexico, Cuba, and Brazil. But the problem is different: I don’t really understand who needs NICA today in a scientific sense. When the project was just planned, it was relevant, but today the energy range of NICA (and the project has not even been launched yet) has already been covered by the accelerator RHIC in the USA and the old CERN SPC accelerator. And colleagues there have already been working in this range for many years and, it seems, they have already found the most interesting thing. That is, in fact, Dubna has a chance to become an interesting project only if some fundamentally new interesting physical program is found within the framework of modest capabilities. Otherwise, we will repeat the experiments that were part of the experiment STAR at RHIC or at CERN,” says T-invariant’s interlocutor.

The advantage of NICA is that it is still a new accelerator and that it will remain the only operating project in its energy range for the next 10-15 years. “There will no longer be new data sets at the STAR experiment, and at CERN there are simply other projects going on. The management plans to build a larger ring, larger than the one in Switzerland now. The main question is when this will happen. Perhaps by then the Chinese will have already built their new ring with a diameter of 100 kilometers, and at CERN it’s again new, a little smaller. But here Dubna will definitely not be able to keep up, even purely geographically: there are rivers all around, we simply don’t have room for such a scale,” explains the scientist.

NICA. Source: official website

Sanctions do not help achieve a ceasefire in a war or resolve a conflict. On the contrary, the measures already taken isolate Russian and Belarusian scientists and exclude them from international discussions both in science and in other areas.

ParticipantScientists from the Science4Peace association call the consequences of the decision of the CERN Council “epoch-making.” This is another significant failure of diplomacy, now scientific. The cooperation of physicists from the two systems began in the 1950s, but now it may stop completely, despite the fact that hundreds of Russian participants in experiments at CERN signed an anti-war letter, many – several such appeals.


JINR is the Joint Institute for Nuclear Research in Dubna, an international intergovernmental research organization, the founders of which are 13 JINR Member States. Founded in 1956.

CERN’s Large Hadron Collider (founded in 1954) has four main detectors – ATLAS, CMS, ALICE and LHCb.

Collaboration with Russia and CERN began back in the 1950s. The first agreement was signed in 1967. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, cooperation between Russia and CERN was regulated by bilateral agreement signed on October 30, 1993, as well as protocols thereto. Russian scientists and engineers made significant contributions to the design and construction of the Large Hadron Collider.

Russia had observer status at CERN. This meant that the Russian Federation did not pay contributions to the organization’s budget, could not vote on the CERN council, but could participate in direct scientific work on the detectors with money and equipment. In 2012, the Russian side applied for associate membership – this status gave the opportunity to attend Council meetings without the right to a casting vote, the right to participate in tenders for the supply of equipment, but it was necessary to pay fees – about ten million euros per year. In March 2018, this application was withdrawn, and the issue of full membership of the Russian Federation in the organization was also discussed. In 2019, to Geneva for the collider arrived Dmitry Medvedev (then Prime Minister of the Russian Federation). The cost of the issue was mentioned – $115 million. But the decision was never made. In 2019, we signed an updated agreement for a period of 5 years, which they are not planning to renew right now. Now about 1000 Russian students, graduate students, scientists and programmers come to CERN throughout the year and about 200 people work permanently. Cooperation between CERN and Belarus ends a little earlier – from June 27, 2024.

Author: Editorial T-invariant


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