CERN suspends Russia as science community joins boycott wave

A view of CERN’s Globe on the organisation’s campus in Geneva. (Credit: 2017-2022 CERN/ Ordan, Julien Marius)

CERN, one of the world's biggest centres for scientific research, said on Tuesday it has suspended Russia's observer member status as part of a growing academic boycott over Moscow's invasion of Ukraine.

At an extraordinary session of its council, CERN’s 23 member states, including the UK, Switzerland, France, Germany, and the Netherlands, condemned “in the strongest terms” Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and said that its membership, together with any new collaborations, will be put on hold “until further notice”.

The European particle physics laboratory, based in Geneva, said it will also “promote initiatives to support Ukrainian collaborators and Ukrainian scientific activity” in the field of high-energy physics, adding that the council “was ready to take further measures” at its future meetings.

Science sanctions gather pace. The move to cut academic and research ties with Russia has gathered pace as more western governments and organisations impose science sanctions aimed at isolating President Vladimir Putin’s assault on Ukraine.

Last week, Germany and the Netherlands announced they were freezing all research and education ties with Russia, while other countries are still deciding whether to follow suit. The spread of sanctions into academia has shaken the research community, many of whom would normally argue that scientific cooperation and science diplomacy transcends borders and politics.

What does the suspension mean for CERN? Over 1,100 scientists affiliated to Russian academic and scientific institutes – not all Russian – work with CERN, representing one of its biggest country communities out of a workforce of around 12,000 people. Their departure would likely have major repercussions on the laboratory’s scientific projects.

Contacted by Geneva Solutions, CERN’s press office said that the researchers’ status “remains unchanged” following the country’s suspension.

As an observer member, Russia does not pay any dues to CERN, however, the country’s institutions are heavily involved and contribute to a number of research and development programmes, in particular, related to the Large Hadron Collider.

Ukraine, meanwhile, is an associate member state of CERN, meaning that although it doesn’t hold a seat on the council, it does contribute to the organisation’s finances.

“Ukrainian scientists are active in many of the laboratory’s experiments and activities. Deeply touched by the widespread and tragic consequences of the aggression, the CERN management and personnel, as well as the scientific community in CERN’s member states, are working to contribute to the humanitarian effort in Ukraine and to help the Ukrainian community at CERN,” the organisation said in a statement.

It also “expressed its support” to the many members of CERN’s Russian scientific community who reject this invasion.