The Russian government has accused the United States of using an allegation that two Russian satellites are stalking a US reconnaissance satellite as an excuse to “fuel an arms race in space,” according to Sputnik, a Russian media outlet.
A spokesperson for the Russian Foreign Ministry told Sputnik that the United States’ complaint about alleged Russian activities in Earth orbit “could lead to the destruction of the existing security balance in space.”
“We would like to point out that the movement of our spacecraft did not pose a threat to the US satellite and, most importantly, did not violate any norms and principles of international law,” the Russian Foreign Ministry spokesperson said.
“This provocative step is another attempt by the United States to justify the US plans to deploy weapons in space, shifting to others the responsibility for destabilizing the situation in space security,” the spokesperson added, without offering evidence of any US plans to place weapons in space.
The Russian accusation comes after the United States has formally and publicly complained about Russian satellite maneuvers near one of its satellites.
According to the United States, a Russian geodetic satellite called Cosmos-2542 that is believed to possess a satellite inspection capability was launched from Russia’s Plesetsk Cosmodrome on 25 November 2019. On 6 December 2019 Cosmos-2542 released a smaller satellite called Cosmos-2543, and on 21 January 2020 the two Russian satellites altered their orbits in order to match the orbit of a U.S. National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) satellite, believed to be a KH-11 extremely high resolution reconnaissance satellite, called USA-245.
Within two days of the Russian satellites’ orbital alterations, the NRO moved USA-245 so that there was a minimum distance of 500 kilometres between it and Cosmos-2542 and Cosmos-2543. Yet despite this defensive maneuver, and due to orbital mechanics, the Russian satellites are still close enough to potentially gather valuable intelligence on the capabilities of USA-245 using optical and electronic measurement sensors, and, according to some observers, the Russian and U.S. satellites will likely make at least one close pass (less that 100km distance) of each other by late February 2020.
General John ‘Jay’ Raymond, the Commander of the U.S. Space Force, has told reporters that, “We view this behaviour as unusual and disturbing…It has the potential to create a dangerous situation in space.”
Commenting on Russia’s claim that the US is using the controversy as an excuse to weaponise space, Dr. Brian Weeden, technical advisor at the Secure World Foundation (SWF) , told SpaceWatch.Global that, “Russia is using this incident to reinforce their decades-long propaganda claim that the United States is the biggest bad actor in space and is pushing to weaponize space. None of that is true, but it has been effective in swaying global opinion because the United States has not been able to develop their own counter messaging strategy.”
“That’s because the U.S. overclassifies its own national security space activities, making it difficult to provide counter facts, and has been unwilling to call out Russian behavior in space for fear of setting a norm of behavior the U.S. might not want to comply with itself,” Weeden added.