Academic Publishing Uncategorized

War, politics and academic publishing

The Euromaidan revolution of winter 2013/2014 in Ukrainian capital Kiev toppled the Moscow-friendly president and quickly led to an establishment of a democratically elected EU-oriented government in Ukraine. Shortly after the collapse of the corrupt pro-Russian regime became evident, Russia, led by its dictatorial president Vladimir Putin, has moved to illegally occupy the Ukrainian peninsula of Crimea through a method of military invasion, sham elections, and subsequent annexation of Crimea on 18 March 2014. None of this has been internationally recognized, neither by UN, United States or European Union (EU). In fact only six countries recognize Crimea as part of Russian Federation, including Syria, North Korea and Cuba.  EU has issued sanctions against Crimean politicians and businesses until the autonomous peninsula is governed by Ukraine again. However, many western businesses are keen on doing business in and with Russia, and sometimes it means recognizing the Crimean occupation. Some of them are the academic publishing giants Elsevier and Springer.


The Crimean annexation was worldwide the first such act upon the territory of an internationally recognized, functional and sovereign state, since the notorious Anschluss of Austria to the German Reich by Hitler and the Nazis in 1938. One of the similarities was: also the Crimean occupation happened without a shot being fired, as the Ukrainian army was strategically disadvantaged and in total disarray in the wake of the Euromaidan revolution. Later on, Russia used a similar, obviously phony pretext of protecting ethnic Russians from alleged oppression or even genocide by the new, pro-western, Ukrainian authorities to foment, finance and covertly participate in a bloody cessation conflict in eastern Ukraine. This ongoing European war has so far cost the lives of at least 9000 people, many of them civilians, including almost 300 passengers of the MH17 plane, according to all evidence shot down by a Russian unit.

The local academia was of course not left unaffected. Two major Ukrainian universities (and a number of smaller ones) were rapidly evacuated from the ongoing civil war in the eastern Ukraine. The Donetsk National University, in pre-war times home to 18,000 students, was evacuated to the city of Vinnitsa in central Ukraine. The originally Luhansk-based Taras Shevchenko National University was moved 100km further to the Ukraine-controlled territory and managed to retain half of its originally 20,000 students. These two large universities were able to avoid war and occupation and retain their Ukrainian identity.

The case was quite different with the Crimean academic institutions, the biggest of which was the Sevastopol National Technical University. Given the nature and dynamics of the annexation, it suddenly found itself de facto in Russia, with Ukrainian language banned from the campus and its name changed to Sevastopol State University. Even the website has changed its country code from .ua to .ru.  The students, most of whom were born and raised in Ukraine, were recently invited by the university to participate in the “all-Russian quiz” to test their knowledge of their Russian “fatherland’s history”.

The Crimea academics who wish to publish their research now have to provide Russia as their institutional country affiliation. This is less of a dilemma as long as they publish in Russian journals.  However, the case is different when the publisher is an international one, often based in EU. Because, according to all international laws, Crimea is still part of Ukraine. The EU stand is unambiguous. As an EU Spokesman informed me by email:

In line with the European Council conclusions of 20 March 2014, the EU adopted a policy of non-recognition of the illegal annexation of Crimea and Sevastopol by the Russian Federation, which includes sanctions. Implementation is for the competent authority in the relevant Member State. The EU has informed the private sector of its non-recognition policy and consequences of the illegal annexation of Crimea/Sevastopol through a regularly updated “Information Note to EU business operating and/or investing in Crimea/Sevastopol” and will continue to do so”.

Two of the biggest academic publishers, Elsevier and Springer, are based in EU, namely Netherlands and Austria respectively. Yet in these two examples, the Crimean authors’ affiliations were given as Russia.

A 2015 paper on distribution of brown algae in the Black Sea, published in the Elsevier journal Marine Pollution Bulletin listed this institutional affiliation: “Institute of Biology of the Southern Seas, 299011 Sevastopol, Russia”. A paper from same year in Springer’s Archives of Virology, describing a local plum pox virus, has an author associated with the Nikita Botanical Gardens, National Scientific Center, Yalta, Russia (Yalta is a town in Crimea, -LS). Assuring the correctness of authors’ institutional addresses is the task of the publisher and its copy-editing office. I therefore contacted Elsevier and Springer for the explanation, why their journals confirm to the world that Crimea is quasi-officially part of Russia.

Tom Reller, head of corporate relations and spokesman for Elsevier, has replied by Twitter:

In his email, Reller confirmed this as official Elsevier position and added: “we don’t feel it’s appropriate for us to get engaged in geopolitical disputes”. To which country Crimea belongs is, according to Elsevier, only up to the authors to decide.

There are in fact recent examples of papers in Elsevier journals where Crimean authors were able to list their affiliation as Ukrainian (Solid State Nuclear Magnetic Resonance, Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution and Zoology).

For Springer, their Senior Editor for biomedicine, Claudia Panuschka, wrote in an email:

“Springer does not make decisions regarding the actual affiliation of institutions. We rather stick to what is indicated on the official internet portals of institutions.  Request at the authors’ confirms the printed address is correct as stated online”.

Springer copy-editing therefore sticks to the postal address provided on the official institutional website.  However, in that case, Springer should be consequent and quickly interfere and correct the institutional affiliations in these recent Springer publications, namely in Parasitology Research (Institute of Biology of the Southern Seas, National Academy of Sciences of Ukraine, 2 Nakhimov Avenue, Sevastopol, 99011, Ukraine) and in European Biophysics Journal (Sevastopol National Technical University, Universitetskaya Str., 33, Sevastopol, 99053, Ukraine). The latter even dares to carry the original Ukrainian name of the university, before it was renamed after Russian illegal annexation.  Both institutional websites proudly display their Russian affiliation (here and here). In fact, maybe Springer should correct its entire journal, Bulletin of the Crimean Astrophysical Observatory, since the observatory and the editorial office are still listed as located in Bahchisarajskij region, Crimea, 98409, Ukraine.

I originally became interested in this subject of Crimean authorships in international journals through a rather different context. I was alerted to the recent peer-reviewed publication from the known parapsychologist Daryl Bem in the journal F1000 Research. His and his colleagues’ “research” on mindreading, clairvoyance and afterlife occasionally pops up in serious journals such as Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, as I have been investigating. One of the two peer reviewers with F1000 Research left as his institutional affiliation “Crimea State Medical University, Russia”. Indeed, the institutional website of the Simferopol-based medical school invites to “Study in Russia”. After I alerted the journal over Twitter to the situation, F1000 Research has swiftly changed it to “Ukraine”.

Nothing bad happened since. London, where F1000 Research Ltd is based, was not invaded or bombed by the mighty Russian military, no British ambassador has been expelled. In fact, even the Crimean author most likely did not suffer any repressions from the side of the new neo-Stalinist regime of Crimea. Simply because such correction of the country of affiliation according to its true international status, is in such cases imposed by the publisher at copyediting of an accepted publication (or here, peer review). A Crimean author who disagrees with the change would have to withdraw his or her authorship or even the entire publication from an international journal, a very unlikely course of events.

Why therefore are Elsevier and Springer that reluctant to enforce the correct country affiliation for Crimea? Are they maybe concerned about their business with Russia, especially their highly lucrative journal subscription services? For example, Elsevier made a subscription deal with Russia’s State Atomic Energy Corporation (Rosatom), and more recently, with the Russian National Research Nuclear University. The Dutch publishing giant even lets the Sevastopol University advertise for it, readers are generously invited to read for free Elsevier’s Open Access publications.  Springer made a deal with the Russian publishing monopolist Pleiades to acquire copyright on all English-translated versions of the original publications by the Russian Academy of Science. This detailed information is available in the pdf of Richard Poynder’s interview with Mikhail Sergeev of CyberLeninka. Given that Russia is known to eagerly impose economic sanctions and ban companies as a means of its foreign politics, it is somewhat understandable if Elsevier and Springer should prefer not to provoke Putin’s displeasure.

One thing is certain though: never mind what Elsevier, Springer or any other academic publisher should write: Crimea is still part of Ukraine.


8 comments on “War, politics and academic publishing

  1. Kfir Lapid

    Interesting article! However, I don’t share your opinion. Academics must not be boycotted for geopolitical matters that are absolutely unrelated to their research. Likewise, I believe that boycott of publications by academic institutes in conflict regions, such as in the west bank, or under rule of authoritarian regimes, such as in Iran, is morally wrong. Unless, they are part of a propaganda and not a valid research. The scientists who remained in Crimea for one reason or another should not be punished only because Russia occupied Crimea.


    • Hi Kfir, there is obviously a misunderstanding.
      A boycott would mean Crimean academics would be excluded from publishing with EU-based publishers. This, as far as I gather from the EU sanctions list (see link from above EU Spokesman quote), is absolutely not the case (another issue is, whether Elsevier’s possible advertisement deal with Sevastopol University goes against EU sanctions). The issue here is about ensuring correct institutional affiliations at the copy-editing stage, after a paper was accepted. Obviously, Elsevier and Springer have their own views about Crimea status, which diverge from the official EU and in fact United Nations stand.
      As for sanctions against scientists: Crimean universities (but not individual scientists!) are in fact banned from applying to EU Horizon 2020 programme. However, while Ukraine is an eligible country, Russia is not part of Horizon 2020 programme. The boycott here is in fact absolutely reasonable, see below.

      Click to access h2020-wp1415-annex-c-elig_en.pdf

      “Given that the EU does not recognise the illegal annexation of Crimea and Sevastopol, legal persons established in the Autonomous Republic of Crimea or the city of Sevastopol are not eligible to participate in capacity. This criterion also applies in cases where the respective action involves financial support given by grant beneficiaries to third parties established in the Autonomous Republic of Crimea or the city of Sevastopol in accordance with Article 137 of the EU’s Financial Regulation. Should the illegal annexation of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea and the City of Sevastopol end, this Work Programme shall be revised”.
      List of eligible countries:


  2. Kfir Lapid

    Thank you for the thorough reply. Although I did not refer to it, the Russian vs. Ukrainian institutional affiliations are also the product of this geopolitical matter. An individual scientist has no control of the formal affiliation, which is given by the institute at which he/she works. Even if he/she decides to use another affiliation, unaccepted by the university or up by the hierarchy of the Russian regime, he/she might find themselves losing their position. Eventually, the science matters. As scientists we should avoid any other distractions that do not play to our aim of publishing our results and discoveries.
    Vice versa, if the EU promotes certain sanctions, the parties taking part should obey their regulations. For example, the EU prohibits the Israeli Ariel University located de facto in the west bank to participate in the Horizon program. Nevertheless, scientists there publish their work with an Israeli affiliation and not a palestinian (not even a single dollar from a palestinian tax money or endowment is invested there). Btw, I’m fine with both sides of this coin. Of course, this example is not strictly similar, but it is comparable for the argument.


    • Hi Kfir,
      first of all, if the publisher were to correct Crimean affiliation of Sevastopol University to Ukraine, the author could simply refer the matter to the university and let it explain to the publisher why it thinks Sevastopol is in Russia. The author (who originally dutifully put in “Russia”) would not suffer any negative consequences or repression from Crimean authorities at all.
      You mentioned the very interesting example of the Ariel University, which is indeed located outside the internationally recognised border of Israel and inside the occupied Palestinian territory. Yet, the State of Palestine has not been proclaimed yet, thus as a sovereign state entity it does not exist yet (hopefully it soon will though). The affiliation of Israel to Ariel University is wrong, but so would be State of Palestine. Given the fact that land exchange is being discussed for 2-state solution, Ariel University could at least in theory eventually be officially in Israel. This is in fact a disputed territory of the kind Tom Reller of Elsevier was referring to.
      Crimea is NOT a disputed territory. Except of Putin and his followers, nobody ever considered Ukraine an artificial or failed state (in fact, Putin insists, even the Ukrainian nation does not exist at all). Thus, according to all international laws, Crimea is not a disputed territory, but part of Ukraine, currently occupied by Russia.


  3. That would be indeed a solution for the authors – the publisher may change the affiliation or discuss it with the university. As you say, they might not want to have a negative impact on their business with Crimean universities. With regard to the example of Ariel university, it was an example of an academic institute located within a region of dispute, and its implication on affiliation and research funding. Obviously, I do not compare it in terms of geopolitical situation.


  4. Thank you for raising this issue, Leonid!

    I contributed to a similar study in Russian back in September 2015, and often received very disappointing responses from Springer, Elsevier and quite a few other publishers. But in a lot of cases the editors did eventually change affiliations, either to “Ukraine” or to somehow neutral “Sevastopol, Crimea”.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Funny, I emailed my article to this website as well as to main RFE/L, twice, and they just ignored it. But journalists do not like to report about the reports of other journalists anyway 😉


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