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.