Rogozin Wants Official Explanation

Rogozin Wants Official Explanation

Russia’s space agency head, Dmitry Rogozin, is waiting for an official explanation for why NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine withdrew the invitation for him to visit the United States.  In an interview with a Russian TV station today, he blamed it on NASA falling victim to a “struggle” between Congress and the Trump Administration, but said the incident has “left a nasty taste in our mouths.”

In October, as part of his visit to Russia and Kazakhstan for the ill-fated Soyuz MS-10 launch, Bridenstine invited Rogozin to make a reciprocal visit to the United States to discuss U.S.-Russian space cooperation and speak at Bridenstine’s alma mater, Rice University.  Bridenstine had been invited to speak at Moscow State University.

Dmitry Rogozin, Director General, Roscosmos Space State Corporation. Credit: Mikhail Klimentyev/Russian president’s press service/TASS (Nov 19, 2018)

Rogozin is under U.S. sanctions because of his role in Russia’s 2014 annexation of Crimea, however, when he was Russia’s Deputy Prime Minister for the aerospace and defense sectors. Sanctioned individuals usually are not allowed to travel here.  NASA has said that Bridenstine worked with the U.S. Treasury Department, which implements sanctions, and the State Department to get approval for Rogozin’s visit.

The invitation received little attention until Politico published a story about it on January 1.  It quoted Republican Senator Ted Cruz, chairman of the Senate subcommittee that authorizes NASA activities, and Democratic Senator Mark Warner, the top Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, expressing reservations.  On January 3, two more Senators — Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, the top Democrat on the subcommittee that funds NASA and Sen. Robert Menendez, the top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee — issued statements opposing the visit.

The next day, January 4, NASA announced that the visit would be postponed.  Later that evening, Bridenstine went further and told the Washington Post that he had rescinded the invitation.  Bridenstine’s press secretary told that NASA informed Roscosmos by telephone.

On January 5, Roscosmos posted a statement on its website saying it was waiting for “official explanations” of why the invitation was withdrawn.

Apparently they are still waiting.  Today, Russia’s official news agency, Tass, quoted Rogozin as telling Rossiya-24: “We understand that in this particular situation this is part of a struggle between Congress and Trump and in this particular case NASA has fallen victim to this struggle because we know about the stance of our partners–they call in principle for developing cooperation with Russia.”  He went on to say that Russia wants to work with the United States, “but we want them to be a predictable partner. … we now see such turbulence, in fact a very bizarre type at that, which left a nasty taste in our mouths.”

Tass then quoted a spokesman saying Roscosmos “won’t take any immediate steps towards NASA” and will decide on future relations “after receiving official documents” about the cancellation.

NASA is one of the agencies whose operations are severely curtailed because of the partial government shutdown so it may be a while if, in fact, any official documents are to be provided.  The State Department is also affected by the shutdown.

Bridenstine told the Post that he rescinded the invitation because “numerous” Senators had concerns and “I wanted to be accommodating to the interest of the [S]enators.”  He added that he wanted to continue “our strong working relationship with Russia as it relates to the International Space Station and sending our astronauts into space.”

The United States, Russia, Canada, Japan, and 11 European countries working through the European Space Agency are partners in the International Space Station.  Since the United States terminated the space shuttle program in 2011, Russia is the only one capable of ferrying crews back and forth.  NASA hopes that two new U.S. crew transportation systems, built through public-private partnerships with SpaceX and Boeing, will be operational this year.

Rogozin is well known for making intemperate remarks about U.S.-Russian space cooperation both when he was Deputy Prime Minister and since he took the helm of Roscosmos in May 2018.  He is controversial for other reasons as well.  Politico characterized him as “an ultranationalist politician with a record of stark racism and homophobia.”

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