Russian Sanctions Against US and EU Steer Clear of Space Cooperation

Russian Sanctions Against US and EU Steer Clear of Space Cooperation

Russia’s decision to retaliate against the United States, the European Union (EU) and other countries that have imposed sanctions because of Russia’s activities in Ukraine does not, at this time, seem to have any impact on existing space cooperation.

Russian President Vladimir Putin announced earlier this week that he would impose his own sanctions in a tit-for-tat response.  Details were released today (August 7) and all are in the agricultural sector.   For one year, Russia will prohibit imports of beef, pork, poultry, meat, fish, cheese, milk, vegetables and fruit from the United States, EU, Canada, Australia and Norway.  Alcohol imports from the United States and the EU are not affected.  Russia plans to increase imports from other countries to compensate.  Russia reportedly is considering additional sanctions, such as banning American and European airline flights to pass through Russian airspace as well as sanctions in the automobile, shipbuilding and aircraft production industries, but there is no indication at this time that space cooperation is jeopardized.

The deterioration of relationships this year between the United States and Russia since Russia annexed Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula has raised concern in the space policy community because of U.S. reliance on Russia for crew transportation to the International Space Station (ISS) and Russian RD-180 engines for the U.S. Atlas V launch vehicle.  The United States has issued sanctions against Russia several times, but they do not appear to be having any negative impact on space cooperation.

Putin stridently complained against the sanctions imposed by the United States and other countries and warned they can “boomerang.”  In announcing his retaliatory sanctions, he said “Naturally, this has to be done very accurately so as to support domestic producers and not harm consumers.”   If his desire to support domestic producers applies broadly and not only to the agricultural sector, that could suggest that he will try to avoid harming companies like Energomash, which produces the RD-180 engines, or the enterprises that build and launch Soyuz spacecraft to the ISS.  NASA pays Russia roughly $450 million a year for U.S. and other non-Russian crew members to fly to and from the ISS.  The two countries jointly operate the ISS. 

NASA insists that nothing has changed in ISS operations because of the geopolitical strains, and the United Launch Alliance (ULA), which builds and launch the Atlas V, and its Air Force customer also say that it is “business as usual” with the Russians.  How much ULA pays for the RD-180s is not public and Senator John McCain (R-AZ) requested that information from the Department of Defense in June.  Presumably, however, it is revenue Russia would not want to forego.

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