NASA Chief Lifts Sanctions on Russian Space Boss, Russia Says

Director General of the Russia state corporation Roscosmos Dmitry Rogozin walks in Baikonur airport after a rescue operation for NASA astronaut Nick Hague and Russian cosmonaut Alexey Ovchinin after an emergency landing, in Kazakhstan, Oct. 11, 2018.

Yuri Kochetov/Pool via AP

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Director General of the Russia state corporation Roscosmos Dmitry Rogozin walks in Baikonur airport after a rescue operation for NASA astronaut Nick Hague and Russian cosmonaut Alexey Ovchinin after an emergency landing, in Kazakhstan, Oct. 11, 2018.

Russian state media says the Trump administration will temporarily ease Crimea-related sanctions to allow a visit to Houston. NASA officials can’t — or won’t — say if that’s true.

A senior Russian official will be given temporary relief from Crimea-related sanctions so he can visit the United States to talk about improving the two countries’ cooperation on space matters — at least, that’s what Russian state media are saying.

On Friday, TASS reported, NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said in an interview that he had “‘succeeded’ in temporarily ‘removing’ the head of the Russian national space agency ‘Roscosmos’ from the sanctions list.” That would be Dmitry Rogozin, CEO of Roscosmos and a former deputy prime minister. The TASS story is in Russian; RT has an English-language version as well.

But is it true? NASA can’t, or won’t, say. Daily calls and emails from Defense One to NASA officials since Friday have elicited no confirmation or denial about what the agency’s administrator told Russian state media. (Update: One day after this article was posted, NASA Spokeswoman Katherine Brown confirmed that Bridenstine had invited Rogozin to visit the United States early next year. But Brown could not say whether the sanctions would be lifted; she referred questions about it to the Departments of Treasury and State.) Calls on Friday and Monday to the State Department drew no comment by press time. The Washington Times asked the White House about it on Saturday and received no response. 

If it happens, Rogozin’s visit would be the third by a Russian official sanctioned since 2014 “to impose costs on named individuals who wield influence in the Russian government and those responsible for the deteriorating situation in Ukraine.” In February, Sergey Naryshkin of Russia’s Foreign Intelligence Service and Alexander Bortnikov of its Federal Security Service came to Washington to meet Secretary of State Mike Pompeo about the mutual U.S.-Russia interests in counterterrorism. (Earlier this year, Sen. Rand Paul, R-Kentucky, mounted an unsuccessful campaign to lift the sanctions.)

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Already known for controversial statements about the United States, Rogozin responded to the sanctions by tweeting that NASA — which has since 2011 paid Russia to ferry astronauts to and from the International Space Station — should consider using trampolines instead. In May, Russian President Vladimir Putin tapped him to lead Roscosmos.

Earlier this month, Bridenstine spoke at Moscow State University, where he pushed for more cooperation between the space agencies. He also invited Rogozin to speak at Rice University in Houston, Texas.

Despite generally elevated tensions between their governments, NASA and Roscosmos have continued to work together in several areas, including proposals to explore deep space together. But the ISS flights are the main one. After a Soyuz launch carrying an astronaut and a cosmonaut failed earlier this month, NASA and Roscosmos are facing the potential of an empty ISS, a key conversation topic of Bridenstine’s visit earlier this month.

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