The U.S. Violates Its Own Sanctions To Buy Russian Space Rockets

Putin’s space industry is managed by two Russian officials sanctioned over the invasion of Ukraine. So why is the Pentagon buying $2 billion in engines from it?

The close working relationship between NASA and the Russian space agency centered around the International Space Station (ISS) since the 1990s is now looking precarious as the United States faces a dilemma over sanctions enforcement.

At issue is whether the sale of Russian-made rocket engines for NASA launch vehicles violates U.S. sanctions imposed on two Russian officials for their role in Moscow’s invasion and annexation of Crimea in 2014: Dmitry Rogozin, a deputy prime minister in charge of Russia’s defense industry known as the country’s “space czar,” and Sergei Chemezov, the head of Rostec, a vast state-owned defense and technology holding company.

Billions of U.S. taxpayer dollars are set to be spent by the United States for these rocket engines.

Rogozin has explicitly referred to it as “free money” that will flow directly into Russia’s military-industrial complex—this, at a time when Russian-made weaponry and materiel are being used in an ongoing dirty war in Ukraine, and Russian warplanes continue to bomb CIA-backed rebels in Syria.

“It’s pretty fucked up,” says Charles Davidson, executive director of the Kleptocracy Initiative, a new graft-monitoring project based at the conservative Hudson Institute in Washington, D.C. “It should be a scandal, not just a controversy.”

Russia’s state-controlled NPO Energomash has contracts worth over $2 billion dollars to supply two major U.S. aerospace companies, United Launch Alliance (ULA) and Orbital ATK, with rocket engines.

The deal with ULA, a joint venture between Lockheed Martin and Boeing, dates back to the late 1990s, providing RD-180 engines for the U.S. firm’s Atlas V launchers. The Orbital ATK agreement for eight RD-181 engines for Antares rockets was concluded in March this year.

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