A new Brief released by Russia Direct in May warns Russia and the United States against sliding into another space race over the Ukrainian crisis.

It remains to be seen if the Ukrainian crisis will fuel another space race between Moscow and Washington. Photo: NASA

The Ukrainian crisis and the resulting economic sanctions might spur a new space race between Russia and the U.S., putting an end to the post-Cold War collaboration between the countries, according to a new Brief released by Russia Direct on May 5.

“Ever since the Cold War era, relations between Russia and the United States in the space exploration sector have repeatedly experienced ups and downs,” wrote the author of this Brief, Sergey Oznobishchev of the Institute for World Economy and International Relations (IMEMO).

“Insurmountable differences have kept the two sides from cooperating fully in the sector, at times forcing them into a space race with both commercial and military implications. With the current crisis in Ukraine, which has led to economic sanctions with the ability to disrupt Russian-U.S. cooperation in space, we are now seeing another cyclical low in bilateral relations related to space exploration.”

The author of the Brief reviews seven key areas of U.S.-Russia space cooperation including collaboration on the International Space Station (ISS), the mutual provision of technical services in space activity (e.g. the launch of U.S. spacecraft using Russian rockets), usage of U.S. instruments for Russian satellites, deliveries of Russian liquid rocket propulsion systems for U.S. launch vehicles, and U.S.-Russia public-private collaboration.

In addition, Oznobishchev estimates both the financial and logistical costs for Moscow and Washington that might result from abandoning or postponing current space exploration initiatives.

“What is clear, though, is that there will be significant bilateral damage in many areas,” he warns. “Time will be lost, and Russia and the U.S. will face the absurdity in today’s global economy of having to invest effort, money, and other resources in duplicating each other’s achievements.”

Oznobishchev argues that policymakers from both sides should be reasonable to take a step back and understand the long-term implications for U.S.-Russia space joint projects. As he sees it, competition rather than cooperation might lead to a new space race.

“The lesson is clear for both Russian and U.S. policymakers: Failure to preserve and extend current areas of cooperation in space exploration would have a significantly negative impact for both sides,” he writes. “In a worst-case scenario, it could lead to a renewal of the Cold War space race, filled with duplicative space projects from both nations, all of which require enormous outlays that could have been reduced through wider cooperation.

Oznobishchev pins hopes on future cooperation on the International Space Station and sees it as “the cornerstone” of such cooperation.

Where else can Russia and the U.S. cooperate in space exploration? Can their collaboration in space mitigate the mutual tensions and distrust? Subscribe and download the full version of the Brief to find out.

Subscribe Now to get the access

Russia Direct reports are available exclusively to subscribers. Enter your name and email to become a free subscriber and we will send you links to download the latest reports shortly.