Thursday, 15 May 2014

Retaliation or Negotiation? Rogozin bans RD-180 exports to the US, while creating uncertainty about GPS and ISS

Russian Deputy Prime Minister, Dmitry Rogozin, has been reported to have ordered a ban of exports of RD-180 engines to the US, as long as the engines are used for military purposes. At the same time, he indicated that GPS stations in Russian may not be allowed after June 1, while Russia is not interested in prolonging ISS operations after 2020. However, all these developments could be seen as parts of a large geopolitical negotiation between the US and Russia.

Russia’s actions could be seen as a response to US decisions, in order to increase Russian leverage in bilateral negotiations over issues that have a significant geopolitical impact. To be more specific:

The US decides to impose economic sanctions on Russian officials, including Rogozin, to put pressure on Russia over the Crimean case. A few days later, SpaceX sues US Air Force for not procuring launch contracts and awarding them directly to ULA, which uses the Russian RD-180 engines for its vehicles. At the same time, SpaceX obtains a preliminary injunction that freezes all future acquisitions of RD-180 engines because of the US sanctions against Rogozin. The injunction can only be lifted after a decision of three US Departments, which occurs a few days later. In the meantime between the injunction and its dissolution, US officials and media express their serious concerns over the judicial developments. Yet Rogozin does not act. He only decides to act, after the injunction has been dissolved and things start seeming normal again, obviously in order to increase pressure to the US.

In January 2014, the US decides to extend ISS operations until 2024 and seeks also Russian approval. However, after the Crimean annexation, NASA announces the suspension of all cooperation programs with the Russian space agency, except for the ISS. Russia is the only nation at present having human transportation capability to the ISS, so NASA is dependent thereon. Rogozin reacts initially by warning of potential ramifications exactly on the ISS operations and now proceeds to a seeming materialization of his warnings. However, a closer look to Rogozin’s statements reveals that he is just increasing his threats: “we currently project that we ‘ll require the ISS until 2020”, “We need to understand how much profit we’re making by using the station, calculate all the expenses and depending on the results decide what to do next” (emphasis added) - which means that no decisions have been made yet.

A year ago Russia asked the US to allow GLONASS monitoring stations to be placed in US territory. The US has been quite reluctant so far to accept such request, although GPS monitoring stations have been placed in Russian territory since the late ‘90s. Thus, Rogozin orders the termination of the US stations, if the negotiations that end on May 31 prove fruitless.

As a result, the current statements of Russia’s Deputy Prime Minister can be seen as rather negotiating arguments in a cooperation framework than a political confrontation in the framework of a crisis.

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