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Russian official says civilian satellites could be legitimate military target

“Reducing space threats”

Russia wasn’t happy about Starlink providing broadband in Ukraine after invasion.

A stack of 60 Starlink satellites being launched into space, with Earth in the background.

Enlarge / A collection of 60 Starlink satellites launched in 2019.

A Russian diplomat said civilian satellites could possibly be legitimate military targets in a statement that appears to make reference to Starlink providing broadband access in Ukraine. Civilian satellites “could become the best target for retaliation,” the Russian official said in a statement to the United Nations’ open-ended working group on reducing space threats.

The quote is from an unofficial English translation of the statement on September 12 by Konstantin Vorontsov, head of the Russian delegation to the US Office for Disarmament Affairs (UNODA) working group. The translation will get other countries’ statements from the session on the UNODA’s meeting website.

Vorontsov said:

We wish to underline an exceptionally dangerous trend that goes beyond the harmless usage of space technologies and contains become apparent through the events in Ukraine. Namely, the utilization by america and its own allies of sun and rain of civilian, including commercial, infrastructure in space for military purposes. It looks like our colleagues don’t realize that such actions actually constitute indirect involvement in military conflicts. Quasi-civilian infrastructure could become the best target for retaliation.

SpaceX’s Starlink division sent satellite terminals to Ukraine after Russia’s invasion of the united states disrupted broadband networks, with the US providing funding for your time and effort. Satellite Access to the internet has beenuseful in Ukraine’s military operations against Russian forces.

Vorontsov’s statement continued to declare that the usage of civilian satellites might violate the SPACE Treaty:

Actions of the Western countries needlessly jeopardized the sustainability of peaceful space activities, in addition to numerous social and economic processes on the planet that affect the well-being of individuals, specifically in developing countries. At the minimum, this provocative usage of civilian satellites is questionable beneath the SPACE Treaty, which gives for the exclusively peaceful usage of space, and should be strongly condemned by the international community.

Russian news agency Tass identified Vorontsov in October 2021 as acting deputy director of the Foreign Ministry Department for Nonproliferation and Arms Control, but he no more holds that position.

SpaceX CEO Elon Musk warned in March of a “high” probability that Russia will attack Starlink equipment in Ukraine, though he was discussing an individual terminals on the floor instead of satellites in space.A Russian cyberattack was in a position to temporarily disrupt satellite servicesupplied by Viasat once the war began.

Musk later reported that Starlink resisted Russian jamming and hacking attacks. Then-Russian space agency chiefDmitry Rogozin criticized Musk for helping Ukraine.

Russias anti-satellite missile test drew condemnation

Russia conducted an anti-satellite missile test in November 2021. “Afterward, US officials condemned the act of shooting down the two-ton satellite at an altitude below 500 km, that is high enough that debris will stay in orbit for at the very least another five to 10 years and could threaten many valuable assets, like the International Space Station,” an Ars article said at that time.

A Space.com article today on Vorontsov’s remark notes that “Russia’s statement at the UN OEWG on space threats come just one single day after two more nations, Germany and Japan, pledged never to conduct destructive anti-satellite (ASAT) tests, joining a chorus of countries like the USA, Canada, and New Zealand which have focused on reducing space debris carrying out a November 2021 Russian test that drew widespread international condemnation. Russia has yet to create this type of pledge.”

In April, Vice President Kamala Harris said the united states “commits never to conduct destructive direct-ascent anti-satellite missile testing” and called on all the countries to check out suit. “To put it simply: These tests are dangerous, and we’ll not conduct them,” Harris said.

Attacking Starlink in space will be no simple matter because SpaceX has launched a lot more than 3,000 satellites and is seeking permission to eventually launch thousands.

THE AREA.com article notes that Starlink was not the only real satellite operator providing important services in reaction to Russia’s war against Ukraine. “Along with Starlink, commercial satellite imagery firms such as for example Planet, Maxar and BlackSky have already been providing crucial intelligence by firmly taking pictures of the conflict from above and sharing them openly, playing an unexpectedly important role through the entire Russian invasion,” this article said.

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