Russia’s top diplomat on Tuesday rejected sharp U.S. criticism of a test of a satellite-killer missile that left a large trail of debris in outer space, arguing Washington was to blame for blocking global efforts to contain the militarization of outer space.
The State Department in unusually pointed terms criticized the surprise test of a new Russian direct ascent antisatellite missile, which destroyed an obsolete Russian intelligence satellite and generated some 1,500 pieces of “trackable orbital debris.”
At one point Monday, U.S. and Russian astronauts aboard the International Space Station took cover in the station’s docked reentry vehicles for fear the craft may be hit by stray debris.
Defense officials in Britain and Germany also condemned the Russian exercise and NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg told reporters in Brussels the test revealed again Russia’s aggressive intentions.
“This was a reckless act by Russia to actually shoot down and destroy a satellite as part of a test of an antisatellite weapons system,” which created a lot of space debris, Mr. Stoltenberg said.
He said the test was especially troubling “because it demonstrates that Russia is now developing new weapons systems that can shoot down the satellites, can destroy important space capabilities for basic infrastructure on Earth, like communications, like navigation, or like early warning of missile launches.”
But Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, in a Moscow press conference Tuesday, accused the Biden administration of making “groundless accusations” after declining invitations to discuss how to reverse the militarization of space.
“No facts exist” to back up American complaints that the Russian exercise posed a risk to peaceful space exploration, Mr. Lavrov said, accusing the U.S. of hypocrisy. He cited the Trump administration’s creation of the Space Force, the first new U.S. military branch in decades, and what he said was a clear U.S. military policy to dominate the battlefield in outer space.
“We would prefer that the United States should sit down at the negotiating table at last, instead of making groundless accusations,” Mr. Lavrov said, according to the TASS news service, “and discuss its concerns with regard to the treaty, which Russia and China are proposing to prevent this arms race and which the U.S. cannot accept.”
“It would be very interesting for us to hear a specific and reasoned position and not pretexts,” he said.
Russia and China have been working since 2005 on a joint diplomatic push they say is designed to prevent the militarization of space.
In 2014, the two countries introduced an updated working paper on a proposed “Treaty on the Prevention of the Placement of Weapons in Outer Space, the Threat or Use of Force against Outer Space Objects” to the Conference on Disarmament, but little progress has been made on the initiative since.
U.S. critics say the proposal is designed to tie the Pentagon’s hands even as both Moscow and Beijing look to upgrade their military capabilities in space.
Russian defense officials Tuesday confirmed they had carried out the strike on the defunct Cosmos 1408 satellite, but also rejected U.S. claims that the debris from the strike posed a threat.
Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said the strike was carried out “with surgical precision” and insisted that it never posed a threat to the space station.
“The U.S. knows for certain that the resulting fragments, in terms of test time and orbital parameters, did not and will not pose a threat to orbital stations, spacecraft and space activities,” the ministry said in a statement.
The U.S., China and India also have conducted antisatellite missile tests, but the U.S. and Indian exercises were carried out at far lower altitudes, well below the orbital path of the Space Station and other satellites.