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Visas to Russia a Challenge for U.S. Researchers

HIGH NORTH NEWS: The cold political climate between the East and the West is hurting cooperation in academia. It has become almost impossible for U.S. researchers to get visas to travel to Russia for conferences and meetings.

Written by High North News staff Published on Read time Approx. 3 minutes
U.S. researchers say sanctions have made it difficult for them to get visas to Russia.Wikimedia Commons/Mynameislalala, CC BY-SA 4.0

BODØ, Norway – Three Washington-based foreign policy experts that follow developments between the United States and Russia closely say that the politics associated with the sanctions and counter-sanctions between Russia and the United States is challenging researchers.

Anders Åslund, a Swedish economist and fellow at the Atlantic Council, Michael O’Hanlon, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution who specializes in defence and foreign policy issues, and Charles Ebinger, a senior fellow studying energy security and climate at Brookings, find that in the academic world, the chill between the two countries means it is considerably more difficult for American researchers to visit Russia and maintain close ties with their counterparts in the East.

But Frode Mellemvik, director of the High North Center of Business and Governance in Bodø, Norway, claims the opposite.

“The cooperation with Russia is increasing,” said Mellemvik.

“It has always been difficult to get visas to participate in conferences and meetings in Russia, but after the Ukraine sanctions it has gone from challenging to almost impossible,” said Ebinger. “Even when Russian research institutions put pressure on the government because they really want U.S. participation, the answer is no.”

Åslund, O’Hanlon and other colleagues have had similar experiences. Lack of cooperation from the Russian government makes it difficult for policy-focused experts and think tanks to work with Russian colleagues. This is unfortunate, said Ebinger and O’Hanlon.

“The situation for Russian researchers is now so difficult that many want to leave. Many of our colleagues have already left Russia and gone to work for research institutions in Europe,” said Ebinger.

In Finland, Professor Lassi Heininen is also concerned about cooperation in research and education, but he sees no big impact – so far.

“I have not experienced any effects from the sanctions or counter-sanctions within my network. Since I study political development, it is actually within the realm of my research study these developments and the effects,” he said.

“However, I think that in academic cooperation, in what I am doing, they don’t have a role to play. The only thing might be that it is a bit more challenging for the Russians to acquire money for travel. That is the only concrete thing where I see an impact,” said Heininen.

Mellemvik does not see that the sanctions have had any negative influence regarding cooperation in science and research. “In our experience, our Russian counterparts are eager to extend our cooperation because of our mutual interest in creating business and trade in the High North,” he said.

“Of course, we all hope that the days of the sanctions will soon pass, that the nations are able to find political solutions, but it is important to realize that the sanctions and counter-sanctions are not intended to have a wider affect. Both Russia and Norway see the importance of creating growth and development in the High North,” Mellemvik said.

He has not found that Russian partners have had difficulties with getting visas for travelling.

“But it might be the case that some experience a tougher economic situation, as I think we all do at present, especially if they deal with the oil and gas industry,” he said.

Oleg Aleksandrov, a professor at the Moscow State Institute of International Relations, in Moscow, fears for the future of scientific cooperation.

“As I see it, the Arctic region has a very low conflict potential. Nevertheless, we are experiencing tension from conflict areas in other regions, such as Syria and Ukraine,” he said. “Even if the Russian leadership has no plans of abandoning cooperation with other Arctic states, the sphere of research and knowledge cooperation may be seriously affected if these tensions continue.”

German researcher Stefan Steinicke from the German Institute for International and Security Affairs underlines the great loss of confidence between the different states.

“By promoting the importance of the Arctic Council, all member states can highlight their political willingness for cooperation. On the bilateral level, however, the situation is completely different,” said Steinicke.

All bilateral relationships with Russia seem to have deteriorated in recent years. This has consequences, if only of an indirect nature, for the Arctic Council. And mistrust is growing between all parties involved.

For example, Russian authorities refused permissions for Norwegian scientists to conduct research in Russia´s Arctic areas, said Steinicke.

A version of this story was originally published by High North News as part of a special report on The New North. It is reprinted here with permission.

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