Russia is now threatening the future existence of the $100 billion International Space Station (ISS) to coerce the United States and its main ISS partners to cease their broad economic sanctions imposed to coerce Russia to end its increasingly obscene and disastrous war against Ukraine.
In short, defending freedom and dissuading Russia and China from waging wars is worth much more than the ISS. Besides, Russia is now committed to supporting China’s designs for space hegemony.
Dmitry Rogozin, director-general of the Russian space agency Roscosmos and a close ally of President Vladimir Putin, issued his latest and most direct threat to end the ISS.
“I believe that the restoration of normal relations between partners in the International Space Station and other joint projects is possible only with the complete and unconditional lifting of illegal sanctions. Specific proposals of Roscosmos on the timing of the completion of cooperation within the ISS with the space agencies of the United States, Canada, the European Union, and Japan will be reported to the leadership of our country in the near future,” he wrote on his favorite bully pulpit, Twitter, on April 2.
Rogozin’s latest threat was in response to letters—that he revealed by posting on Twitter—from the directors of the U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), the European Space Agency, and the Canadian Space Agency responding to Rogozin’s letter of March 14 regarding sanctions and the future of the ISS.
Rogozin did not get what he wanted, the end of sanctions. But he did receive an explicit “waiver” to sanctions on Russian space corporations from NASA chief Bill Nelson, who on March 31 wrote:
“NASA will continue to work with the relevant U.S. Federal departments to facilitate cooperation on and operation of the ISS, including any ISS cooperation supported by the JSC Central Institute of Machine Building (JSC TsNIIMash) and JSC Rocket and Space Center-Progress. Sustaining safe and successful ISS operations remains a priority for the United States.”
On March 30, Rogozin’s colleagues completed what was by all accounts a professional and collegial service rendered about 70 times before, the return to Earth of an American astronaut, Mark Vande Hei, in a Russian Soyuz space capsule.
But on Feb. 24, the day Russia launched its general invasion of Ukraine, Rogozin shattered the 24 years of mainly positive ISS comity. In response to general U.S. and European sanctions, he threatened to separate the Russian half of the ISS from the Western half and not return Vande Hei on March 30.
Throughout Putin’s horrific war against Ukraine, Rogozin has taken to Twitter to post vociferous support for Russia’s war.
On March 20, after The New York Times began to acknowledge the “Russian hoax” scandals surrounding President Joe Biden’s son, Hunter Biden, Rogozin tweeted this vicious attack against the Biden family:
“Drug addict, drunkard, lecher, and thief Hunter Biden robbed Ukraine and shared bribes with his father. Now, when all this has been revealed, the father of this bastard is flooding Ukraine with weapons in order to burn in the fire all possible evidence of the corruption of his criminal family. I believe that our law enforcement agencies will be interested.”
To be sure, Hunter Biden has not massacred thousands of Ukrainians, driven 4 million into exile, razed Ukrainian cities, and made Europe hover on the brink of nuclear war.
But the Russian perpetrators of these crimes had no hesitation in using the Hunter Biden scandal—already historic in its brazenness and now perceived as a weakness in that the American system will not resolve it—to accuse the United States of hypocrisy in Ukraine, diminish the Executive Office of the President of the United States, and weaken America’s global leadership.
So one cannot help but conclude that the tawdry Hunter Biden scandal has become a national security threat, now used by Russia and, perhaps later, China to justify evil and aggression against America and its allies.
As Putin’s desperation grows due to political and, perhaps soon, military defeat in Ukraine, he could decide to initiate the violent destruction of the ISS to enhance Russia’s nuclear coercive threats, but that would also threaten its American and German crew.
Rogozin also has blasted the notion that “peace in space” can advance “peace on Earth.”
On Twitter—in Russian—U.S. Astronaut Scott Kelly directly attacked Rogozin for Russia’s unjustified invasion to the point that Rogozin blocked him. But on March 11, Kelly told ABC News:
“I just hope people realize and want to keep this partnership together because it is one of the few things that unites all of humanity together … I think one of the biggest successes of the International Space Station is the international aspect of giving u.s. something to work on together, that makes us friends.”
But this admirable notion, if it ever existed, was blasted by Rogozin in a March 30 Twitter tirade:
“On Earth, we are French, German, Russia … Russians are a threat to you again. Russians are targets for sanctions. … Well, then let us remind the adversaries of Stalingrad and Berlin, and Poltava, Sevastopol and the steadfastness of Kronstadt, where the grandfathers of the Russians gained glory.”
Should Putin decide that destroying the ISS serves his coercive and propaganda goals, he will not “sell” its half of the ISS, and there could be little time to save an ISS half supported by the United States, Europe, and Japan.
Furthermore, Russia, along with China, are already moving on. Russia, now much less able to afford new and expensive space programs due to its war, has basically joined China’s much better-funded program to occupy the moon and then Mars.
Russia has the talent and companies to build future nuclear space propulsion and to build advanced lunar habitats that could support China’s space ambitions. But in return for Chinese financial support, Russia will have to accept subordination to China’s leadership.
Preventing China from controlling the moon and, thus, controlling cislunar space that could control low Earth orbit and determine military outcomes on Earth is arguably worth more than the $3 to $4 billion the United States spends annually on the ISS.
Perhaps new, privately-funded smaller space stations envisioned by NASA can ensure the democracies derive economic and scientific benefits from manned access to low Earth orbit.
It will be more important for the United States to lead a coalition of democracies that will invest much more in moon and Mars programs that block China’s goal of achieving hegemony in space as a parallel to its ambitions for hegemony on Earth.
But now, the United States must prepare for the worst on the ISS and prevent it from being used by Russia as the world’s most expensive “Molotov cocktail” to shame the United States and the democracies.
Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.