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Russian Official: NASA Announced Mars Water Finding To Upstage Putin’s UN Speech

NASA's dramatic September 28 announcement claimed that the space agency had found "the strongest evidence yet" of flowing water on Mars.
NASA's dramatic September 28 announcement claimed that the space agency had found "the strongest evidence yet" of flowing water on Mars.

NASA’s dramatic announcement that it had found "the strongest evidence yet" of flowing water on Mars was momentous. But according to one Russian lawmaker, it had a more nefarious purpose.

Vyacheslav Nikonov, a Kremlin-loyal member of Russia’s lower house of parliament, has alleged that the U.S. space agency decided to time the announcement to distract the world’s attention from Russian President Vladimir Putin’s speech to the United Nations on September 28.

"Putin's speech was certainly the central element of the UN General Assembly session," Nikonov was quoted by the state-run TASS news agency as saying on September 28."It is not surprising that the United States held a NASA news conference devoted to water found on Mars at the time when Putin was addressing the UN General Assembly.”

Putin spoke not long after U.S. President Barack Obama gave his own speech before the UN assembly. In their speeches, each accused the other’s government of fomenting instability in the world.

Vyacheslav Nikonov
Vyacheslav Nikonov

"Putin's speech was tough and concise. He formulated the basic principles of international relations without matching the United States and its allies. He offered concrete steps for resolving major international problems," said Nikonov, a member of the Kremlin-backed United Russia political party and a grandson of Vyacheslav Molotov, Soviet dictator Josef Stalin’s foreign minister.

"This means that they had to interrupt Putin’s speech with something very serious," he added.

NASA announced that "new findings from NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter provide the strongest evidence yet that liquid water flows intermittently on present-day Mars."

The finding was published in Nature Geoscience, a peer-reviewed scientific journal.

NASA's information office told RFE/RL that the timing of the agency’s announcement of the finding was dictated not by Putin’s UN speech, but rather by an embargo set by Nature Geoscience.

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    Mike Eckel

    Mike Eckel is a senior correspondent reporting on political and economic developments in Russia, Ukraine, and around the former Soviet Union, as well as news involving cybercrime and espionage. He's reported on the ground on Russia's invasion of Ukraine, the wars in Chechnya and Georgia, and the 2004 Beslan hostage crisis, as well as the annexation of Crimea in 2014.

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    Carl Schreck

    Carl Schreck is an award-winning investigative journalist who serves as RFE/RL's enterprise editor. He has covered Russia and the former Soviet Union for more than 20 years, including a decade in Moscow. He has led investigations into corruption, cronyism, and disinformation campaigns in Russia and Central Asia, as well as on poisoning attacks against Kremlin opponents and assassinations of Iranian exiles in the West. Schreck joined RFE/RL in 2014.

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Written by RFE/RL editors and correspondents, Transmission serves up news, comment, and the odd silly dictator story. While our primary concern is with foreign policy, Transmission is also a place for the ideas -- some serious, some irreverent -- that bubble up from our bureaus. The name recognizes RFE/RL's role as a surrogate broadcaster to places without free media. You can write us at

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