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Cosmic Or Cosmetic Changes? A Twitter Shake-Up At Russia’s Space Agency

Roskosmos chief Dmitry Rogozin (right) greets International Space Station crew members shortly before their departure from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan in March 2019.
Roskosmos chief Dmitry Rogozin (right) greets International Space Station crew members shortly before their departure from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan in March 2019.

A scroll through the official Twitter account of Roskosmos on June 3 would have turned up some striking old posts from Russia’s respected state-owned space agency.

The successor to the Soviet ministry that launched the first man and woman into space, Roskosmos has become a global brand and leader in satellite and manned space launches for countries and companies around the world.

Yet some posts on its new Twitter handle, @rogozin, undermined that global image.

“I would change now, without thinking for a second, all my positions for the joy of being in the same trench with the defenders of Slavyansk!” read a post from May 2014, referring to the Russian-backed separatists fighting in eastern Ukraine.

Russia this week transformed @rogozin, the personal Twitter account of Dmitry Rogozin, the outspoken nationalist director-general of Roskosmos, into the agency’s new official account.

The @rogozin account has nearly 770,000 followers compared with nearly 155,000 for the old Roskosmos account, @roscosmos. The company said the change was made to end redundancy.

"We are already coordinating the press service's most important publications with the director-general, so there is no point in running two parallel accounts," Vladimir Ustimenko, head of the agency’s press service, told state-owned RIA Novosti.

Russian President Vladimir Putin meets with Rogozin at the Kremlin in August 2019.
Russian President Vladimir Putin meets with Rogozin at the Kremlin in August 2019.

However, it did so before deleting many of Rogozin’s old, acerbic posts prior to his appointment as the head of the nation’s space agency.

Once news agencies began to point out the irreverence of some of the posts now being associated with Roskosmos through its @rogozin handle, the company’s social-media team moved at cosmic speed to clean it up.

By June 5, most of the eye-opening posts, including the one about the trenches in Slavyansk, were deleted.

Reined In?

But the sudden change of Twitter accounts has raised some questions about whether the outspoken nationalist is being reined in by the government.

The Twitter handle maneuver comes two weeks after Ivan Safronov, a former journalist at two of Russia’s most-respected business papers, was appointed as an adviser to Rogozin on media policy.

It also comes days after an embarrassing international moment for Rogozin.

On May 30, SpaceX, a company owned by American entrepreneur Elon Musk, launched two astronauts aboard a rocket from Florida to the International Space Station (ISS).

It was the first manned rocket launch from American soil since 2011, when the United States closed the Space Shuttle program. The launch ended Roskosmos’s decade-long monopoly on manned launches.

SpaceX blasting off on May 31
SpaceX blasting off on May 31

When asked during a press conference after the successful May 30 launch if Russia had sent any message, NASA head James Bridenstine said that he received congratulations from Rogozin.

Musk then responded pithily by saying “the trampoline is working,” an undisguised jibe at the Roskosmos director-general that grabbed media headlines.

After Russia annexed Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula in March 2014 and backed separatists in eastern Ukraine, the United States imposed a series of sanctions against Russian officials and state companies, including Rogozin.

That prompted an angered Rogozin to tweet in April 2014 that U.S. astronauts -- who were dependent at the time on Russian rockets -- could henceforth try using a trampoline to get to the ISS. That tweet has been removed as well.

Rogozin, known for his anti-American and anti-Western rhetoric, founded the nationalist Motherland party in the 2000s and later served as Russia’s representative to NATO.

When Vladimir Putin returned to the post of president for his third term in 2012, Rogozin was named deputy prime minister and charged with overseeing the defense and space industries.

He was tapped to head Roskosmos in 2018. However, his tenure overseeing the industry hasn’t exactly been smooth sailing for the 56-year-old.

The years-long construction of the Vostochny Cosmodrome in Russia’s Far East had been marred by delays and massive corruption, with some workers staging a protest over lack of pay.

In 2018, a tiny hole was discovered inside a spacecraft docked to the ISS while a rocket failure that same year caused a U.S.-Russian crew to abort its mission.

Rogozin last year called some of the criticism “exaggerated” and “deranged cries.”

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