Alexei Gromyko: Science and Diplomacy go Shoulder to Shoulder

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The new conflict, or better said misunderstanding, is growing between Russia and the collective West. A logical zeitgeist forms – that the avenues for cooperation between the two parties grow smaller every day. Mutual distrust, media sensationalism and Western political figures brazenly shouting about Russian isolation/aggression etc. further adds to the rift, and further points Russia away to the East. In Russia itself, the way that is presented, is that closer cooperation with eastern countries is something qualitatively new.

Director of the Institute of Europe at the Russian Academy of Sciences Alexei Gromyko in his conversation with Rethinking Russia points to the neutrality of the STEM fields and how respective diplomatic agencies could work to improve academic cooperation in non-STEM humanitarian spheres too. Summarizing his recent visit to the UK (before the present-day Russo-British crisis) Dr. Gromyko highlights that for Russia to develop fully, its diplomatic wing should eagerly work with countries in all four of the compass directions.

Could you please say a few words about your recent trip to the UK? How has it changed since your last visit?

I visit the UK rather often, so I would prefer to assess how the country is evolving not on a visit-to-visit basis but over years or even decades. It goes without saying that England of the 1990s significantly differs from today, in terms of lifestyles, party-political systems and even geopolitical methods. Much remains unchanged, however, for example her unstable relationship with Russia. Look at the newspapers of the nineteenth century, they have the same amount of Russophobia as today. But our countries have always had significant numbers of individuals with mutual interest and understanding, those who would be fascinated by the other side especially in terms of culture and science. During my last visit, I again got to enjoy meeting many Englishmen who know Russia well, and consider the current level of bi-lateral relations unacceptable. I am also happy that the Russian Academy of Sciences is continuing its good relationship with Russian-speaking students of the UK. This kind of cooperative exchange enriches both parties involved.

Recently you wrote about the 1917 Russian Revolution. In your opinion, how should Russian diplomatic efforts strive to help British historians understand better events of Russian history important for Russian people like the 1917 Revolution and the Great Patriotic War?

I think this is not something to do for the diplomats. Only in rare occasions do researchers need the assistance of diplomats or other intermediaries to carry out research. Unless we are talking about visas or visit, scientists do not need the blessing of intermediaries to meet one another or share the conclusions of their research. If we take historians as an example, source work is very important, thus they require wide access to archives and primary sources, and the ability to take part in international conferences. Given the resources, the rest is up to the individual’s ability and competence in terms of analysis, logical and critical thinking. Of course, ‘science diplomacy’ does exist, and good diplomacy is itself a science. Many diplomats publish research and are awarded scientific degrees too. Furthermore, diplomatic bodies should strive to popularise the achievements of their countries.

Are the effects of the latest geopolitical struggle between Russia and the West palpable in the academic sphere?

I think that the terms of geopolitical struggle cannot be applied to the sphere of academic cooperation. Of course, we can see serious competition, especially in the fundamental and applied sciences that are relevant to the development of the military-industrial complex, in space technologies or technologies with dual military-civilian use. We can recall the ‘Space Race’ between the USSR and the USA in the 1940-60s as an example. But the military industrial complexes of the UK, Germany, France and such are not fully parts of the struggling forces and competition with them is more in the commercial sphere, racing for buyers of technologies in the international market. Academia and the world scientific community is probably one of the most cosmopolitan and open sectors there are. Competition within the scientific community will always be fierce and will always be, as without competition between schools of thought we cannot have scientific progress. But the ‘geopolitical’ side plays a minor role in the overall competition. If a scientist stops relying on the thirst for scientific truth and objectivity in his research and allows politics or ideology to impact his research and relationships with other scientists – then he is not a real scientist at all. The vulnerable researchers in this regard tend to be political scientists and historians. Unfortunately, some fulfil political orders instead of pursuing pure research. Some even write false history or pseudo-scientific supporting tracts for state propaganda narratives. But, to reiterate – these are not scientists but political agents and falsifiers.

What is the best way to maintain scientific neutrality?

I would discuss not neutrality of objectivity of science, as objectivity already implies full neutrality. We should strive to eliminate stereotypes, clichés, use of unreliable data and – it goes without saying – politically funded results. Of course, these problems are more present in the humanities.

Repeating the questions briefly touched upon by yourself in London, with the East-West choice again presenting itself to Russia, what path do you see for Russia which would harmonise between the two and remove the need for this question in the future?

Russia is both East and West, and I will add, both North and South. Not ‘between’ any side but quite an independent polity on the world stage. Russia already tried a ‘lean to the West’ in the 1990s, and that did not bring us any good. In the same way, we should not readily accept this notion of ‘turning East’. Russia has interests along its whole border and far beyond it, in all of the compass directions. The most stable model for international relations is a balance of power, a system of checks and balances. For this, we require good relations with as many polities as possible.

Interviewed by Emil Pevtsov

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