The Little Things

Yesterday morning I heard the news about Russia’s invasion of Ukraine via the radio as soon as it woke me up at 7am. It took me a while to summon up the energy to get out of bed and get ready for my 9am lecture. The routine things of life seem so trivial and futile compared to wars and other disasters over which one has no influence. But it does not help Ukraine (nor anyone else, including yourself) to be overwhelmed by despair. So I got up and did my lecture, as I did this morning with a 9am tutorial.

Somehow, it feels like a duty to persevere. I think that’s partly because the tyrants of this world want people to feel powerless. By persisting with the little things you are, in a very small way, defying those who want you to be terrified. The image of Vladimir Putin as some sort mastermind, a Karla-like bogeyman with strategic superpowers, has hypnotized too many. He’s just a sad old relic of the Cold War.

I try to resist looking at the news too often, my desire to stay informed tempered by a wish to remain sane. I’d like to believe that the Ukrainians can hold out, but they’re massively outnumbered and outgunned so the odds are heavily against them. But they’re fighting on their home soil for a just cause against an invader. That should count for something. The longer they can hold out wear down the Russian army the more chance there is that the tide will turn against Putin at home.

I doubt that sanctions from the West will have any impact on Putin’s murderous intentions, at least not in the short term. In any case they look weak to me. Russian teams are still playing in UEFA tournaments, and Russia will still be in Eurovision. Why is this tolerated?

I spent an hour yesterday on a zoom call related to the European Space Agency’s Euclid mission, which is due to be launched on a Russian Soyuz spacecraft in 2023. The latest batch of sanctions may lead to a delay in Euclid or even its cancellation. That would be a major problem for many scientists around the world. It’s a big thing for us, but it gets smaller when you compare it with what’s happening in the world. I bet a majority of us working in cosmology would prefer to see Euclid scrapped altogether than see further death and destruction unfold. I know I would.

It wouldn’t work that way, of course, but the question we have to ask ourselves is who are we happy to do business with? How could you sleep at night after giving money to or taking money from the Kremlin or its proxies? Maybe Putin will succeed only in giving the West a renewed sense of moral certainty.

For years the West has been corrupted by dirty money from Russia’s gangster oligarchs. Now Ukraine is paying the price. We’ve been far too slow to understand the true nature of who and what we’ve been dealing with. Now it’s time to get serious. “Business as usual” no longer applies, at least not with Russia…

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7 Responses to “The Little Things”

  1. As expected, Russia has now declared that all Soyuz launches from Kourou are suspended. The first affected mission is a pair of Galileo navigation satellites due to be launched in April, but it does seem very likely that there will be at least some delays to Euclid also.

  2. David Milstead Says:

    I’m on a scientific committee that visits various European countries. We are due to hold a meeting in Russia this year.
    Its not obvious whether this should go ahead. My gut reaction was against this happening. However, on reflection there are arguments that it should take place. I doubt that many scientists sit in front of their TV’s cheering on the Russian invaders. Also, during the Cold War, scientific collaboration (where it happened) was one of the few ways to maintain politics-free links between the different blocs.

    In any case, regardless of the morality or otherwise of holding the meeting in Russia, I think it will end up being cancelled for the pragmatic reason that few international scientists would choose to attend.

  3. Peter: do you know if/how eRosita operation will be affected by the current happenings?

    • I don’t know for sure what will happen but eRosita is a German-Russian collaboration and will be affected by the German government’s decision to halt all such activities.

    • telescoper Says:

      I just heard via a contact at MPE-Garching that eRosita is now in “safe mode” with all observations frozen and no further work being done owing to the ban on German-Russian collaborations.

  4. […] a delay in the launch was inevitable as soon as news broke of the Russian invasion of Ukraine (see here) because the original plan was to launch on a Russian Soyuz vehicle. The subsequent decision by the […]

  5. […] Euclid was intended to be launched on a Russian Soyuz vehicle a further delay seemed likely (see here). The subsequent decision by the Russians to remove all their personnel from the launch site at […]

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