Russian lawmakers, engineers and astronauts on the International Space Station on Thursday rejected the U.S. government’s accusation that Russia was endangering its astronauts.
Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.), the top Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee, had called on NASA and the U.S. Air Force to bar access to Russian use of their U.S. airspace, saying Russia’s actions had endangered the lives of its own astronauts and compromised Russia’s most expensive mission.
Inhofe said President Vladimir Putin has threatened Russia’s astronaut corps and led to a “dangerous development in security policy.”
Putin last year called on the Russian military to shoot down a U.S. satellite to protest the U.S. deployment of a missile defense system in Poland and the Czech Republic. The plan was killed, but another version has been put forward.
Russian legislators said Inhofe and Defense Secretary Jim Mattis had not given any reason for restricting the use of Russian airspace, and that no such move had been taken by the U.S. government.
Sergei Ryabkov, a deputy prime minister, accused Inhofe of selectively citing security reports, saying that the Pentagon had warned repeatedly about the risk of a Russian missile attack.
“Unfortunately, some in the U.S. Congress, who are elected in order to protect people’s lives, give only protection to the U.S. government’s officials,” Ryabkov said in Moscow.
Nikolai Sevastyanov, an adviser to Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin, said in a statement that Inhofe’s concern about a Russian missile attack was “in accordance with the ‘eastern bloc’ logic.”
“Western politics believe that the region’s people are nothing more than pawns who cannot possibly be protected,” Sevastyanov said.
On Twitter, Russian Transportation Minister Maxim Sokolov said the U.S. has not proven its claims of the “level of threat from a Russian missile,” saying that they were not made in a balanced way.
“The U.S. State Department asserts that a potential conflict between Russia and the U.S. is closer than it has ever been,” he wrote. “It should be noted that there is no evidence of such an event. There is also no fact to back up this claim.”
The U.S. has said that it has not had the “appropriate capability” to mitigate the risk.
Russian President Vladimir Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov said on Thursday that Putin expected the U.S. to decide “appropriate measures” in this regard before the end of March.
There have been several incidents that have put the safety of Russia’s cosmonauts and astronauts at risk in recent years.
In October 2010, Russian cosmonaut Gennady Padalka had a near miss with an unmanned Progress cargo spacecraft that failed to make a rendezvous with the space station. Four months later, U.S. astronaut Doug Wheelock was killed when his space shuttle Columbia broke apart during re-entry.
This article was written by Joseph Dussault from The Washington Post and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to [email protected]