Russia has agreed with Sierra Leone on non-deployment of space weapons. Why?

  • Pavel Aksenov
  • BBC Russian Service

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Photographer, English MOD

Last week, Russia agreed with Sierra Leone not to be the first to place weapons in space, and before that it concluded similar agreements with Venezuela, Cambodia, Togo, Uruguay, Burundi and a dozen other countries that have apparently not yet begun space exploration.

For several years now, Russia has signed joint declarations not to be the first to place weapons in space with countries that do not have large space programs – neither civilian nor military. In addition to African, Latin American and Asian countries, such statements have been signed with, for example, Armenia, Belarus, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and others.

These statements are made for a reason, but as part of Russia’s No First Deployment of Weapons in Space (NPOF) initiative, which has been in place since 2004.

On the website of the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, these agreements are called “the highest form of intergovernmental transparency and mutual trust”, as well as “the most effective and truly effective measure to prevent the withdrawal of weapons in space.”

How have agreements with countries that are not yet exploring outer space proved to be the most effective measure to prevent weapons from getting there, and why does Russia need such a policy?

Why did the question arise about placing weapons in space?

In 1967, a major international treaty on outer space was concluded. It prohibits the deployment of all types of weapons of mass destruction in outer space, but it does not prescribe other types of weapons. This creates a legal gap.

During space exploration, different countries launched a lot of units that are not weapons of mass destruction, but that work in the interest of the military. These are, for example, satellites for remote sensing of the earth, equipped with different types of sensors, ie spy satellites. In addition, the military uses spacecraft for communication, target designation and geopositioning.

Such satellites do not pose major claims from other countries – firstly, they do not pose a direct threat to any other units or missiles in orbit, and secondly, they are often used by both military and civilian services.

Russia fears that the United States, and possibly its allies, want to place strike systems in space that could attack ground and space targets. Similar fears are experienced in the Pentagon in relation to Russia and China. They also point to the fact that Moscow and Beijing are actively creating ground-based space weapons.

Have the United States, China and Russia tried to negotiate?

In 2008, Russia and China submitted to the Conference on Disarmament a draft treaty on the prevention of the deployment of weapons in outer space (PPWT). In the authors’ view, this should be one of the basic agreements on a comprehensive ban on weapons in outer space.

The draft treaty has been criticized by Western countries, mainly the United States, which says it does not contain restrictions on aspects that are important to Moscow and Beijing. It was subsequently completed in 2014, but even in its final form, it does not suit Washington.

The Treaty prescribes a ban on the placement of weapons of any kind in outer space and on any use of force against space objects. It was submitted to the Conference on Disarmament for consideration, but so far Moscow and Beijing have not been able to organize a full-scale discussion on it.

Why does Russia need agreements with Asian and African countries in this case?

The NPO movement and joint declarations on the non-deployment of weapons in outer space with dozens of countries are an alternative to such a large treaty. Moscow is trying to get support from as many countries as possible so that this process is as large-scale as possible.

Ideally, according to the Russian Foreign Ministry, accession to this initiative by all states would involve the adoption of a global political commitment not to place weapons in space, and the development of space attack weapons systems would be inappropriate.

“You can approach the legally binding alternative – the adoption of an appropriate agreement, or you can go in stages by imposing political obligations on yourself,” said Andrei Malov, associate professor at the Department of International and National Security at the Diplomatic Academy of the Diplomatic Academy. Russian Foreign Ministry, explained in an interview with the BBC.

“The water wears on stone, do you understand? Therefore, slowly pushing the world community’s understanding that this is indeed an extremely destabilizing moment if assault weapons are deployed in outer space,” he says.

On the other hand, Russia needs the NPOK to move towards a full-fledged discussion on a major treaty on weapons in space – that is, it is not only an alternative to a larger treaty, but also part of the way to one. legally binding agreement.

Why did the United States not like the treaty proposed by Russia and China?

Wang Guoyu, deputy director of the Institute of Space Law at the Beijing Institute of Technology, writes in an article entitled “Disadvantages of PPWR: Real or Imaginary” published on the PIR Center’s website in 2015 that the United States’ main complaint was that the draft treaty did not at all took into account terrestrial anti-satellite systems, which are actively being developed by China and Russia.

China tested an anti-satellite missile in 2007 and shot down an old Feng Yun 1C meteorological satellite that was launched into orbit in 1999. This showed the level of Chinese technology in this area.

Russia is creating the S-500 anti-aircraft missile system, which, like Colonel Sergei Surovkin, commander-in-chief of the air force, said in an interview with Krasnaya Zvezda in July 2020, could also shoot down satellites.

“In terms of its performance characteristics, the S-500 can be attributed to the first generation of space defense systems, as it will be able to destroy low-range satellites and space weapons in the future. targets of all modifications, including in the nearby space, “said the commander – in – chief. Practical tests of this system against spacecraft have not yet been performed.

Photographer, Getty pictures


One of the complaints against the draft PPWT treaty was the lack of restrictions on Russian and Chinese anti-satellite weapons.

The United States also accuses Russia of developing and testing orbital anti-satellite weapons.

In July 2020, after the Russian inspector satellite Kosmos-2543 entered orbit, a small object separated from it in the direction of another Russian satellite.

The US Space Command calls it a “projectile”, but Russia claims that it was some kind of “small spacecraft” that tested another satellite in orbit.

This case in the US is linked to another that occurred in 2017. Then the Russian device, according to the Pentagon, performed maneuvers near the US satellite.

The United States believes that in both cases Russia tested anti-satellite weapons and that this shows Russia’s true intentions regarding not deploying weapons in space.

“This incident highlights Russia’s hypocritical support for arms control in space, through which Moscow is trying to limit US capabilities, while apparently not intending to end its own anti-satellite programs – ground-based and what is clearly an orbital anti-satellite weapon. , “- Christopher Ford, Undersecretary of State for International Security and Non-Proliferation, commented on the Cosmos-2543 incident in this way.

Does Moscow have any claims on the US space program?

Moscow does not have a better view of Washington. Speaking at the 2019 Geneva Disarmament Conference, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said the United States was deliberately dragging out the negotiations while creating a space constellation.

“In the second decade, we only hear excuses, they say, that the development of a treaty is a long thing, it is too early to start negotiations before there is a real threat to launch weapons into space, and that is generally inappropriate. In the meantime, funding has already been allocated in the United States for the creation of a space missile defense segment and the deployment of percussion weapons in orbit near Earth … A real combat structure will be built, ready to clean up outer space at any time from orbital property in offensive countries, “Kommersant quotes him as saying.

In recent years, the United States has indeed actively created space forces, but insists that this is done in response to the actions of Russia and China.

Photographer, Mikhail Japaridze / TASS


Sergei Lavrov accused the United States of creating a space structure “ready at any time to clean up outer space from orbital property in offensive countries”

In June 2020, the US Department of Defense released a space strategy, according to which the US will secure an advantage in space, especially over China and Russia.

“China and Russia pose the greatest strategic threat due to the development, testing and deployment of anti-space systems, as well as their doctrine of using them during a conflict that will expand into space. China and Russia are militarizing space to reduce military efficiency in the United States and its allies, restrictions on freedom of activity in space “, the strategy states.

Even before this strategy was adopted, the space force and US Space Command 2019 were created.

First of all, the strategy reflects the recognition of outer space as a possible potential theater for military operations.

In total, the document contains four tasks: to ensure the superiority of the United States in space; provide space-based support for national and joint operations in other areas – land, sea, air and cyberspace; establish a state of stability (through both permanent presence, deterrence and the creation of international standards and rules); improve communication with partners and allies, as well as between different authorities within the country.

However, the United States does not place strike systems in space, as two former high-ranking generals – former head of the US Strategic Command Kevin Chilton and former head of the Air Force Space Command William Shelton – wrote in a joint article on the Defense website, in the future it is necessary to create such weapons that can avert an attack in orbit.

“In military planning, it is reasonable to assume that our vital space infrastructure will be the target of attacks in future conflicts. To deter these attacks and, if necessary, ward them off, the United States must develop and deploy both offensive and defensive systems that will have Russia to understand and China, that we will win all conflicts that flow into the space world “, it says in the article.

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