U.S. accuses Russia of launching space weapon into orbit

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U.S. accuses Russia of deploying space weapon, Russia denies allegations
The United States has accused Russia of deploying a space weapon into low-Earth orbit, sparking international concern over the militarization of space. – May 22, 2024

The U.S. has accused Russia of launching a space weapon into low-Earth orbit, but Russian officials dismissed the assertion as “fake news” as the two countries continue to spar over the issue of space weaponry.

Pentagon spokesperson Maj. Gen. Pat Ryder held a news briefing Tuesday and claimed that the space weapon can attack other satellites. His comments mirrored earlier claims made by the U.S. ambassador to the UN on Monday that Russia had launched an anti-satellite weapon.

“Russia launched a satellite into low Earth orbit that we assess is likely a counter space weapon, presumably capable of attacking other satellites in low Earth orbit,” Ryder said. He added that the weapon was launched into the “same orbit” as a U.S. government satellite.

The U.S. is monitoring the situation and stands ready to protect the “space domain,” Ryder said. The satellite weapon was allegedly launched on May 16 on a Soyuz rocket from Russia’s Plesetsk launch site.

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Moscow, however, denied the U.S.’ claims, deriding them as disinformation.

“I don’t think we should respond to any fake news from Washington,” Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov was quoted as saying by the Interfax news agency.

“The Americans can say whatever they want but our policy does not change from this,” said Ryabkov, adding that Moscow had “always consistently opposed the deployment of strike weapons in low-Earth orbit.”

The Kremlin confirmed it launched a rocket on May 17 that had a spacecraft on board but gave no details about what it was for.

In this photo released by Russian Defense Ministry Press Service on Friday, May 17, 2024, a Soyuz-2.1b rocket carrying spacecrafts of the Russian Defense Ministry flies in the sky after the launch from a launch pad of Plesetsk Cosmodrome outside Plesetsk, northern Russia. Russian Defense Ministry Press Service photo via AP

The U.S. and Russia have been clashing over the issue of space weapons at the UN in recent weeks, with a U.S.-backed resolution and Russia-backed resolution to ban space weapons failing to be passed by the Security Council (UNSC). Both countries are accusing the other of trying to militarize space, even as they both present resolutions calling for bans.

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The first resolution was introduced by the U.S. and Japan and put to a vote at the UNSC on April 24. The resolution sought to reaffirm the Outer Space Treaty of 1967, which bans states from placing nuclear weapons and weapons of mass destruction in space and mandates that outer space be held in common for all of humanity. In other words, no state can annex or claim sovereignty over space.

Russia pushed back against the resolution and deemed it unnecessary, given that the Outer Space Treaty is still in effect. The Russian representative accused the U.S. and Japan of “cherry-picking” weapons of mass destruction and nuclear weapons instead of banning all kinds of weaponry in order to “camouflage their lack of interest” in outer space peace.

Russia, a permanent member of the UNSC with veto powers, voted against the draft resolution, killing it. All other members were in favour except for China, which abstained.

Shortly after, Russia introduced its own draft resolution calling for a ban on all space weapons, including weapons of mass destruction, which the U.S. representative called “disingenuous.”

It was during this meeting that the U.S. ambassador first asserted that Russia had launched a space weapon on May 16.

Numerous member states pointed out that the text of Russia’s resolution was based on the text of the previous U.S.-Japan resolution, which Russia vetoed.

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When put to a vote on Monday, the resolution failed to pass. Seven states, including the U.S., voted against it.

Ecuador’s ambassador noted the outcome was “largely predictable” but decried the UNSC as becoming “just one more arena that exposes today’s geopolitical tensions.”

In a comment to the Associated Press, Paul Meyer, Canada’s former ambassador for disarmament and a fellow at the Vancouver-based Outer Space Institute, lamented the “squabbling” taking place over the issue of space weapons.

“We have this negative, squabbling attitude among leading space powers that seem more interested in scoring points off their adversaries rather than engaging in constructive dialogue,” he said.

— With files from Reuters

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