Rogozin Warns Sanctions Could Boomerang, Suggests Trampoline for Sending Astronauts to ISS

Rogozin Warns Sanctions Could Boomerang, Suggests Trampoline for Sending Astronauts to ISS

Statements attributed to Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin appear to be the first public linkage between tensions over Ukraine and the future of U.S. astronauts aboard the International Space Station (ISS).  U.S. officials have repeatedly insisted that the ISS would not be affected by the deterioration in U.S.-Russian relations.  This appears to be the first public statement by a Russian official.

Russia’s Interfax news agency reportedly quoted Rogozin as saying that “Sanctions are always a boomerang which come back and painfully hit those who launched them.”  He also reportedly said that if the aim of new sanctions imposed by the Obama Administration yesterday are intended “to deliver a blow to Russia’s rocket-building sector, then by default they would be exposing their astronauts on the ISS.”  The Obama Administration announced restrictions on exports to Russia yesterday for items on the U.S. Munitions List — which includes commercial satellites — if they might aid Russia’s military.  Details were not provided.

Rogozin’s comments were in Russian and English translations were reported by a number of western news outlets, some of which also cited remarks along the same lines on Rogozin’s Russian-language Twitter account.  Alan Boyle of NBC News reports that Rogozin suggested via Twitter that the United States “bring their astronauts to the International Space Station using a trampoline.”

The United States and the other non-Russian partners in the ISS have had to rely on Russian Soyuz rockets and spacecraft to get back and forth to the ISS on a routine basis since the space shuttle was terminated in 2011.  The ISS crews also must rely on the Soyuz spacecraft as “lifeboats” in case they need to evacuate the station in an emergency.   Today, there are three Russians, two Americans and one Japanese aboard the ISS.  NASA continues to report that all is well there.   Russia and the United States jointly operate the ISS and it would extremely difficult for one to operate it without the other.

The United States, Europe, Japan and Canada — all partners in the ISS — each announced new sanctions against Russia in the past two days because of its activities in Ukraine.  CNN has a handy list of the individuals and entities that have been sanctioned so far.  None appears to be directly related to space station activities other than Rogozin himself, who was among the first group of Russians sanctioned by the United States in March.   As noted, the Obama Administration also is restricting exports to Russia that might aid Russia’s military.  It also instructed NASA to limit its cooperation with Russia other than for activities that are exempted, such as ISS.

Congressional actions are also reflecting the current tensions.  The House Armed Services Committee’s Strategic Forces subcommittee is preparing to mark up its section of the FY2015 National Defense Authorization Act tomorrow.  Among other things, it plans to provide $220 million to DOD to develop an American-built liquid rocket engine to replace the Russian RD-180 engines used for Atlas V rockets.  Instead of referring to “Russian” engines, though, the language refers to “non-allied.”  The bill also requires a report from DOD assessing threats to U.S. space operations especially from China and Russia.

Rep. Frank Wolf (R-VA), who chairs the House Appropriations subcommittee that funds NASA, said in a speech yesterday, that the United States is facing “real competition in space” not only from China, but “for the first time since the end of the Cold War, an overtly hostile Russia that is threatening our allies in Europe.”

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