A Russian satellite attempted last year to spy on a satellite providing secure communications for the French and Italian militaries, French Defense Minister Florence Parly said on September 7.
In an incident that Parly said was like a Star Wars movie, she said the French-Italian Athena-Fidus satellite was approached "a bit too closely" by Russia's Louch-Olymp craft, which is known for its advanced listening capabilities.
"It got so close that we might have imagined it was trying to intercept our communications," she said. "Trying to listen to your neighbors is not only unfriendly. It's an act of espionage."
Parly was speaking at the Toulouse-based France space agency that developed the Athena-Fidus satellite jointly with the Italian space agency ASI.
Parly said officials took "appropriate measures" and monitored the Russian satellite after it left. She said it was observed maneuvering near other targets as well.
Last month, Washington accused Moscow of developing anti-satellite weapons and cited what it called the "very abnormal behavior" of a "space object" deployed by Russia last October.
It also dismissed a proposed treaty by Russia and China aimed at averting a space arms race, calling it "hollow and hypocritical."
"We are well aware that other major players in space are deploying intriguing objects into orbit, experimenting with potential offensive capabilities, conducting maneuvers which leave no doubt as to their aggressive intent," Parly said.
French President Emmanuel Macron has pledged to develop a "space defense strategy" for France, and Parly said experts were preparing recommendations she intended to pass on by the end of the year.
"We're at risk -- our communications, our military maneuvers, and our daily operations are at risk if we don't react," Parly said.
She noted the call by U.S. President Donald Trump last month to create a new "space force" to assert U.S. dominance in space and protect against vulnerabilities to its satellite-based systems.
"I've heard some people laugh" about Trump's plan, Parly said, but "I'm not among them."
"I see this as an extremely powerful signal, one of the confrontations to come, of the increasing importance of space, of the future challenges," she said.
"We know that space is becoming militarized. We're not going to stand by and watch."