Russia says U.S. military curbs on space cooperation are unfair competition


MOSCOW/WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Russia accused the United States of trying to unfairly grab market share in the space services industry on Friday after the U.S. military imposed restrictions on space launch cooperation with Moscow.

FILE PHOTO – The Soyuz-2 spacecraft with Meteor-M satellite and 18 additional small satellites launches from Russia’s new Vostochny cosmodrome, near the town of Tsiolkovsky in Amur region, Russia November 28, 2017. REUTERS/Stringer

The U.S. Department of Defense on Friday banned contracts for Russian commercial satellite services if they were deemed to pose an unacceptable cyber security risk, a document on the U.S. government’s Federal Register showed.

The restrictions apply to launches carried out from Dec. 31, 2022, and cover services with satellite and launch vehicles, the document said. China, North Korea, Iran, Sudan and Syria are already subject to the same restrictions, it said.

Pentagon spokesman Army Major Chris Mitchell said that he anticipated that the Department of Defense would immediately avoid contracting with Russian commercial satellite providers.

“This policy relates specifically to the Department of Defense, which is not responsible for the space station,” he said. “Questions regarding U.S.-Russian cooperation on the International Space Station should be directed to NASA.”

Moscow criticized the U.S. move.

“The United States has long conducted a policy of trying to squeeze Russia out of the market for launch services,” the head of space corporation Roscosmos, Dmitry Rogozin, was quoted by the TASS news agency as saying on Friday.

Roscosmos had also condemned the U.S. move in a statement a day earlier, calling it the “latest case of unfair competition by Washington on the international market for space services”.

“The Pentagon wants to destroy what has been created with such difficulty,” it said.

The United States currently relies on Russian Soyuz rockets launched from the Baikonur cosmodrome in Kazakhstan to reach the International Space Station.

Space is one of the few areas where cooperation between Russia and the United States has remained intact despite ties plunging to post-Cold War lows amid tensions over everything from Ukraine to alleged election hacking.

Reporting by Tom Balmforth in Moscow and Phil Stewart in Washington; editing by Andrew Osborn

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