Putin Wants Continued Space Cooperation With U.S.

Putin Wants Continued Space Cooperation With U.S.

Two days before his summit with President Joe Biden, Russian President Vladimir Putin told NBC news that he wants continued space cooperation with the United States. Some Russian officials have been suggesting Russia will pull out of the International Space Station (ISS) in 2025, but Putin said that is a misunderstanding. His comments also come one day before the heads of NASA and Russia’s space agency speak at an international conference in Russia.

NASA Administrator Bill Nelson repeatedly points out that despite the deep divisions between the United States and Russia on many issues, space is one place where the two countries manage to get along. He traces it back to the 1975 Apollo-Soyuz Test Project where U.S. astronauts docked with Soviet cosmonauts for two days of joint operations even though the Cold War was in full force.

The ISS is the centerpiece of that cooperation today. Russia joined the U.S.-European-Japanese-Canadian space station program in 1993.  International crews that always include Russian and American cosmonauts have continuously occupied ISS for over 20 years. The two countries work together hand-in-glove every day to operate the facility’s Russian Orbital Segment and U.S. Orbital Segment (which includes modules from Japan and Europe and a robotic arm from Canada). At the moment, two Russians, three Americans, a Japanese, and a European are on board.

The cooperative agreement among the ISS partners expires in 2024, but is widely expected to be extended to 2028 or 2030. Dmitry Rogozin, Director General of Russia’s space state corporation Roscosmos, recently said, however, that future cooperation might be contingent on the U.S. lifting sanctions against Russian aerospace companies. Rogozin himself is under U.S. sanctions for his role in Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014 when he was Deputy Prime Minister in charge of the defense and aerospace sectors.

Russia also is increasing its space cooperation with China. The two recently signed an agreement to build an International Scientific Lunar Station and are inviting others to join them, seemingly in competition with the U.S.-led Artemis lunar program.

Where does that leave U.S.-Russian space cooperation? A lot could happen in the next two days to answer that question.

The IAF’s Global Space Exploration (GLEX) conference is underway in St. Petersburg, Russia. Tomorrow, Nelson and Rogozin will be on a panel together along with other space agency leaders, some of whom are there in person and others, like Nelson, virtually. Rogozin plans to hold private side-meetings with some of them during the course of the conference, including Nelson.

Rogozin sounded a conciliatory note today in a tweet thread, saying “So we should not interpret our demands for the lifting of sanctions from Roscosmos enterprises as threats to cooperation in general. This is not true. By the way, tomorrow ‘on the margins’ GLEX will be another conversation I have with the head of NASA Bill Nelson.”

Perhaps more significantly, in an interview today with NBC News reporter Keir Simmons in advance of Wednesday’s summit, Putin also sounded a friendly tone. NBC’s transcript shows Putin as solidly behind continued space cooperation with the United States — and China too.

KEIR SIMMONS: You understand, of course, I— I’m just trying to question you about Russia’s position in relation to China and the United States. Let me ask you in— yeah, let me ask you in a different way. Are you splitting off from the U.S. space program and moving forward with China?

VLADIMIR PUTIN: No. No, why? We are prepared to work with the U.S. in space. And— I think recently the head of NASA said that he could not imagine development of space programs without its partnership with Russia. We welcome this statement.


VLADIMIR PUTIN: And we value—

KEIR SIMMONS: —I just— I just explain? Because the— the head of the Russia space agency h— has threatened— leaving the international space program in 2025— and specifically talked about sanctions— in relation to that threat.

VLADIMIR PUTIN: Well, honestly, I don’t think that Mr. Rogozin, that is the name of the head of— Roscosmos, has threatened anyone in this regard. I’ve known him for many years, and I know that he is a supporter— he is a supporter of expanding the relationship with the U.S. in this area, in space.

Recently, the head of NASA spoke in the same vein. And I personally fully support this. And we have been working with great pleasure all of these years, and we’re prepared to continue to work. For technical reasons though, and that’s a different matter, is that the International Space Station is— coming to an end of its service life.

And maybe in this— regard, the Roscosmos does not have plans to continue their work. However— based on what I heard from— our U.S. partners they, too, are looking at future cooperation in this particular segment in their certain— in a certain way.

But on the whole, the— cooperation between our two countries in space is a great example of a situation where despite any kind of problems in political relationships in recent years, it’s an area where we have been able to maintain and preserve the partnership and both parties cherish it.

I think you just misunderstood the head of the— Russian space program said. We are interested in continuing to work with the U.S. in this direction, and we will continue to do so if our U.S. partners don’t refuse to— to— to do that. It doesn’t mean that we need to work exclusively with the U.S.

We— have been working and will continue to work with China, which applies to all kinds of programs, including— exploring deep space. And— I think there is nothing but —positive information here. I— frankly, I don’t see any ex— any— contradictions here. I don’t think any mutual— exclusivity here.

It all sounds positive, but then again Putin also asserted Russia is “categorically against” the militarization of space despite recent Russian antisatellite tests. He also denied reports that Russia is giving high resolution imaging satellites to Iran that could enable Iran to track military forces.

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