Russian space chief feuds with US astronaut and likes Ukrainian president to Hitler on Twitter

Tensions between the Russian space agency and those of western nations due to Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine became more personal over the weekend, as Russia’s space chief attacked a Nasa astronaut on Twitter and likened the Ukrainian president to Adolph Hitler.

In the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on 24 February, the European Space Agency and Nasa issued carefully worded statements about the value of international cooperation in space, particularly on the International Space Station, which currently hosts five Nasa and European astronauts and two Russian cosmonauts .

But Dmitry Rogozin, director general of Russia’s space agency, Roscosmos, took a different tact, issuing defiant and combative statements to the press and on Twitter, some of which have grown increasingly strange and bellicose in recent days.

Former US astronaut and US naval Captain Scott Kelly has taken to Twitter himself, translating and tweeting western media accounts of the war to the Russian people in Russian, such as a Wall Street Journal article suggesting Russian shelling could amount to war crimes.

On Sunday, Mr Rogozin tweeted at Capt Kelly, saying, “Get off, you moron! Otherwise the death of the #ISS will be on your conscience.”

In other recent tweets and media appearances, Mr Rogozin has suggested they might pull out of the ISS, a collaboration with the US and Europe that dates back to 1993.

Mr Rogozin later deleted his tweet at Capt Kelly, leading Mr Kelly to tweet a screenshot of the deleted tweet saying, “Dimon, why did you delete this tweet? Don’t want everyone to see what kind of child you are?”

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Mr Rogozin ultimately blocked Capt Kelly on Twitter, and turned his attention to President Zelenzkey.

On Monday, Mr Rogozin tweeted a clip from the 2004 German film Der Untergang, which features Nazi leader Adolph Hitler ranting at his military leadership deep within a bunker. In the film clip in Mr Rogozin’s tweetHitler’s face was replaced by that of Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskyy.

The important thing to remember about Mr Rogozin, is that he “is a politically appointed official who has connections to Vladimir Putin, so we expect to see this kind of reaction from him”, said Laura Forczyk, a physicist, and founder of space analytics firm Astralytical. “We also have seen this kind of behavior from him in the past.”

Mr Rogozin, Russia’s ambassador to Nato from 2008 to 2011, was then Russia’s deputy prime minister from 2011 until being appointed head of Roscosmos in 2018. After becoming the focus of US sanctions in 2014 over Russia’s invasion of and annexation of the Crimea peninsula from Ukraine , Mr Rogozin tweeted“After analyzing the sanctions against our space industry, I suggest the USA to bring their astronauts to the International Space Station using a trampoline.”

At the time of Mr Rogozin’s trampoline comments, however, the US depended on Russian Soyuz spacecraft to carry astronauts and cargo to and from the ISS, with the US space shuttle being retired in 2011. But things have changed since 2014, and Nasa and ESA are no longer dependent on Russia for rides to space.

The recovered first stage of a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket is transported to the SpaceX hangar at launch pad 39A at the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida May 14, 2016

(REUTERS/Joe Skipper)

When Mr Rogozin made a similar comment on 3 March, suggesting the US and Europeans ride to space on “broomsticks” after Russia Announced it would stop selling rocket engines to the US. SpaceX CEO Elon Musk responded by tweet to video of a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket launching satellites into orbit with the comment, “American broomstick.”

Astronauts and cargo have flown to the ISS aboard SpaceX Dragon spacecraft since 2020, and SpaceX could potentially pick up where Russia leaves off if the country pulls out of the ISS. Similarly, satellite internet provider OneWeb could potentially contract SpaceX to launch its satellites now that the company and Roscosmos have terminated their relationship.

Virtually every partner with Russia in space has options, in other words, but Russia’s outlook without those partners is bleak.

“They have very limited space activities on their own,” Forczyk said. “They rely on international partnerships.”

Without Europe and the US, Russia’s remaining main partner would be China, but as Forczyk noted, it could be tough for Russia — and Mr Rogozin to play second fiddle to a China with its own advanced launch capabilities and plans to establish a base on the Moon.

“[The Russians] have a lot of pride in their historic space achievements as they should,” she said. So they certainly have a lot more to lose than they have to gain by cutting off partnerships internationally.”

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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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