The State Department confirmed that Russia shot down one of its own aging satellites in an exercise testing their missile capabilities in space Monday, causing astronauts aboard the International Space Station to shelter in place from the debris cloud that followed.
“Earlier today, the Russian Federation recklessly conducted a destructive satellite test of a direct ascent anti-satellite missile against one of its own satellites,” Ned Price, a spokesperson for the State Department, said in a daily briefing. “Russia's dangerous and irresponsible behavior jeopardizes the long-term sustainability of outer space and clearly demonstrates that Russia's claims of opposing the weaponization of space are disingenuous and hypocritical.
“The United States will work with our allies and partners to respond to Russia's irresponsible act,” said Price.
News first broke Monday morning when Roscosmos, the Russian space agency, confirmed to a state news site that “space junk” was headed straight for the station, without any mention of a military exercise or details regarding the incoming cloud. Reports then began trickling out that the source of the debris was the deliberate work of a Russian missile that shot down an old Russian satellite.
Still, Russia isn’t alone in its testing of anti-satellite missiles: The U.S. has done its own tests, while China and India have done the same. Military strategists widely regard satellite missiles to be a critical capability in any future militarization of space.
But the Kremlin has yet to account for the reasoning behind the test, which comes at a time of increased tensions between NATO and Moscow. The timing of the missile test also brings to mind the classic Russian military tactic of sabre-rattling with Western enemies at a time of geopolitical stress. For years, dating back to the Cold War, Russian bombers have repeatedly flown into North American space, conveniently during times when Moscow is locked in a tête-à-tête with the West.
Maria Zkhaharova, a spokesperson for the Russian foreign ministry, did not respond to emails regarding Russia’s anti-satellite missile test earlier today.
Earlier this month, Poland alleged that Belarus, a chief ally to President Vladimir Putin’s government in Russia, has intentionally sparked a refugee emergency along their shared border that has resulted in a military build-up on both sides that threatens a conflict. In the midst of that crisis, which some have already questioned as masterminded by the Kremlin, Russian troops are massing along the Ukrainian border threatening an escalation in the nearly decade-old conflict in that country.