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Russian Space Agency Demands NASA Explanation After Rogozin Visit Called Off


NASA called off a visit by Dmitry Rogozin, chief of Russia's Roscosmos agency, after an outcry by U.S. lawmakers. (file photo)

WASHINGTON -- Russia’s space agency says it is demanding an explanation after NASA called off the planned visit to the United States by Dmitry Rogozin, the chief of Roskosmos who is subject to U.S. and European Union sanctions.

In a statement cited by the state-run TASS news agency on January 5, Roskosmos said that "it expects official explanations of NASA's position" and stressed that Rogozin's visit was planned "in accordance with an invitation received earlier."

Roskosmos added that planned talks on possible cooperation with the United States on the International Space Station (ISS) are "so far not suspended."

Earlier, Roskosmos said it had not received notification from NASA that the visit had been postponed.

NASA made the announcement on January 4, following critical press reports and calls by U.S. lawmakers to cancel the visit.

"NASA has informed the Russian space agency, Roskosmos, that [Rogozin’s visit] currently planned for February 2019 will need to be postponed," NASA spokeswoman Megan Powers said in a statement on January 4.

NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine, a former Republican congressman, told TASS in October that he had invited Rogozin to visit the NASA headquarters and that he would seek a waiver to travel a ban against him. The invitation was not widely reported in the United States at the time.

After a story on January 1 in Politico brought the visit to light, U.S. Senator Jeanne Shaheen called on NASA the following day to withdraw the invitation "before Congress is forced to act."

"Administrator Bridenstine’s invitation to Dmitry Rogozin, one of the leading architects of the Kremlin’s campaign of aggression towards its neighbors, undercuts our message and undermines the United States' core national security objectives," she said in a statement.

'The Wrong Message'

Shaheen, a Democrat from New Hampshire, has been a leading critic in the Senate against Russia's alleged meddling in the 2016 U.S. presidential election and has pressed for the United States to "send a strong message to the Kremlin."

Senator Mark Warner (Democrat-Virginia) said that it "absolutely sends the wrong message to lift sanctions, even temporarily, for the purpose of inviting him to speak to students at one of our nation’s premier universities."

NASA and Roskosmos have cooperated for more than two decades. In 2011, the agencies grew closer than ever when the United States retired its Space Shuttle fleet, making Russian Soyuz rockets the only way to shuttle people and equipment to and from the International Space Station (ISS), and resulting in NASA paying Roskosmos some $2.5 billion for its services since.

Rogozin was deputy prime minister in charge of Russia’s defense industry when he was first subjected to Western sanctions over his public support for MOscow's illegal annexation of Ukraine's Crimean Peninsula in 2014. Under those sanctions, he is banned from entering EU countries.

He served as Russia’s ambassador to NATO from 2008 to 2011.

He became director-general of Roskosmos in May 2018.

With reporting by USA Today and Politico