Russian View




Maxim V. Tarasenko


Paper analyses Russian view of its involvement into international space cooperation and associated Western concerns. In the current political and economic situation Russian administration and space industry eager to take part in all kinds of international space activity, which is seen as the opportunity to sustain national scientific and technological potential. Russia pretends for a fair share both in commercial space operations and joint space development programs, appropriate to her capabilities as a No.2 space power. Western concerns about Russian interference and/or problems in dealing with Russia seems solvable and less dangerous than re-building of confrontation, as opposed to cooperation.



2 Introduction

The end of the Cold War, on one hand, detracted political backing and financial support from national space projects, fueled by the Cold War competition. On the other hand, the new international environment provided a unique opportunity to join capabilities of different space powers and to apply potentials, created for the Cold War, to truly global peaceful needs.

While shaping a new global framework of international space activity, an issue of determining a proper place for Russia in it can not be ignored. To make a judgment correct, not only Western appreciation of the Russian international space role is necessary, but the Russian own view has to be examined as well.

This article outlines Russian perceptions of Russian aims in and capabilities for international space cooperation and then discusses Western views and concerns, associated with Russian involvement.


2 Background.

Russia's self-rating in space is #1.5

The former Soviet Union was one of the top two space powers in the world. The Soviet Union and the United States were the only countries, which pursued a full spectrum of activities in space, including manned missions, space science, space systems for national defense and economic applications. For the Soviet leadership, rocket and space technology was a top priority area to keep a par with the United States. Being inferior in most areas of high technology, the USSR was quite successful in such areas, as powerful liquid rocket engines, aerodynamics, space nuclear power, and also in "brain-consuming" products, like software and algorythms. The Soviet Union was able to capture a lead in some highly visible appearances of space activity, such as permanent human presence in orbit, space launch capability and launch vehicle reliability.

With a break-up of the USSR, Russia inherited an overwhelming part of space-related scientific and industrial potential of the former Soviet Union, as well as of ground support infrastructure.

Currently Russia is obviously a space power No.2. Meanwhile, her unique experience and lead in some high profile areas allows some people in Russian industry and policy-making circles to rate Russia,

as to say, No 1.5. A self-perception of Russia as top two space power is clearly illustrated by the fact, that it is the United States, which Russia considers a prime partner for cooperation in space.


2 Russian claims in the area of international space activity

The international space activity is usually discussed in one of its two basic aspects:

a) as a global market of space products and services, or
b) as international cooperative space projects.

These two aspects are not independent, and although in most cases they are easily separable, the distinction is not worth drawing too clear while discussing current Russian posture.

a) Global space market claims

The former Soviet Union did not participate in an international space market and its involvement into cooperative space ventures was limited mainly by scientific cooperation with the East European countries under the Intercosmos program.

Nowadays, when the Russian rocket and space industry suffers from the end of the Cold War and transition from plan to market economy, Russia counts to benefit from offering its capabilities at the global space market. Entrance to the international market is considered a way of raising additional, out-of-budget funding. This is imperative, because after the break-up of the USSR space industry literally has to fight for survival. All the state space budget is sufficient for is to provide marginal maintenance costs and salaries as low as half of average level for the state-owned industry. [1] An acuteness of situation is illustrated by the fact, that in 1993 leading Russian space firms had had to sell a variety of historical space stuff from auction to earn few million dollars. [2]

A principal offer of Russia to a global market is a space launch capability. Unlike general spacecraft technology, the Russian SLV industry is quite competitive in reliability and scheduling. (1) Russian industry also widely offers space-related technologies, where they are a par with or superior to similar developments of the West (liquid rocket engines, electic jet engines, nuclear powerplants, composite materials and alloys).

b) Perceived role in the international space cooperation

An international space cooperation is viewed by the Russian Space Agency (RKA) and the Russian space industry as a way of continuing perspective space projects, which can not now be sustained by the country alone. Joining efforts of different countries (first, in Russian view, the United States and Russia) could serve to save science and research capabilities, developed throughout decades of the Cold War and now being under a threat of loss because of demand cut.

The concrete list of projects for international space cooperation is determined by the areas where the FSU scored its most successes. Top priority for the RKA is a future permanent manned station. In addition to operating the world's only manned space station, which is permanently inhabited since as early as 1987 (2), Russia also possesses workable, extremely reliable system for crew and cargo ferrying. Hence, the RKA and industry counted for a proper place in a revised Space Station project. This Russian role was firmed in agreements, signed by U.S. Vice-President Gore and Russian Prime Minister Chernomyrdin in September and December 1993. However, the extent and exact way of using Russian hardware in a new joint design is still to be finally agreed between the US administration and Senate. [3]

No.2 priority for the international agenda of the RKA is space science. This was traditionally an area for successful international cooperation. Since as early as 1985 (the Venus - Halley mission), the Soviet Union performed all space science and planetary mission only in cooperation with the West, mostly with France and some other European countries. Western partners got significant savings by leaving development and launch of the basic spacecraft to Soviets, while Soviet side got data from superior Western scientific instruments.

The future Russian space science projects (Spektr observatory series, Mars probes) also all envision foreign participation. To say more, now the international cooperation is a must for the Russian space science. Despite the RKA commits steady 19 per sent of its budget to space science, under current economic conditions budget allocations runs too low even to cover traditionally Russian-funded part of spacecraft manufacturing and launch. As a result, to get off the ground any Russian space science mission needs not only scientific, but financial foreign participation as well. [4]

So, there is an unusual situation, when Russia is willing to extensively participate in joint space programs, but can't for the time being abide to the basic principle of earlier space cooperation - no net funds transfer.

At the same time, Russian space administration expect a place in joint programs for Russia, which would correspond to perceived rating of her advances in appropriate fields. In the industry and polical corners evaluation of Russian input to the pool of joint programs varies widely. For example, even despite Russia will get $ 400 million during 4 years in support of joint space station development and the RKA estimates cumulative income for the Russian space industry from the program as up to $ 1.5 billion, "some Russian specialists" raise concerns, that Russia would "present" to the US what was developed for decades. [1,5]

c) Expanding the scope of international cooperation

Starving for funds, Russian space industry went so far as to offer to international users their best products, developed for military applications. In addition to obvious spin-off uses of military communications and reconnaissance spacecraft for commercial applications, the complete operational military systems were offered for an international use.

TsNPO Kometa of Moscow, which was the principal contractor for the Soviet early warning and anti-satellite systems, proposed to use an extra capability of the Russian operational early warning satellite system used for global atmospheric monitoring. The ASAT system, according to Kometa, could be employed to mitigate large space debris. [6]

The reasoning behind the idea is basically the same - to secure out-of-budget funding to keeping the industry afloat. In this case, however, explicit military capabilities of the systems prevented offering them for sale. Instead, system capabilities are proposed for use under international jurisdiction, without distributing control of the system. If eventually accepted, this approach would constitute qualitatively new area for international space cooperation.

Along this potential new way of international cooperation closer milestones are seen, such as simple data exchange between owners of operational military space-based monitoring systems. This data could be used for non-military applications, such as monitoring of drug traffic and environmental problems. [7] This approach could further expand to monitor non-proliferation of weapons and, eventually, to establish an international monitoring network for collective security system.


2 Western concerns and Russian arguments

A possibility of full-scale involvement of Russia into international space activity raises several basic concerns in the West:

Concern 1: Cooperation with Russia would deprive Western domestic industries of funds, which would go to Russian contractors instead of Western ones.

Concern 2: Differences in cultures, particularly, in business and management styles, complicate cooperative activities with Russia.

Concern 3: Political instability questions Russia's ability to uninterruptedly sustain complicated space activities, particularly, long-term cooperative space projects.

Related concern is that Russia could use cooperation with the West to keep and upgrade the ex-Soviet military-industrial complex, which might pose a threat again, if Russia will turn back to confrontation with the West.

The first concern applies primarily to launch vehicle suppliers, who fears, that Russian penetration would dump the limited market and heavily hurt traditional suppliers. To less extent it concerns spacecraft and systems manufacturers, who may lose part of development and production contracts for future joint space projects.

The real Russian threat to the established space launch market is not as grave as it might seem. Russian capability for GEO launches, which constitute the overwhelming majority of the market, equals to 7-8 shots per year. (3)

Furthermore, the Russian Space Forces (responsible for all space launches) does not cut its manifest of military payloads. Hence, the room left for commercial GEO launches proves limited, hardly more than 2 launches per year. The agreed in 1993 quota, allowing Russia to make 8 launches to GEO with up to 12 satellites until the year 2000, seems both acceptable and realistic.

Worries about Russian price dumping are also exaggerated. When the Soviet prices for launch services were released for the first time in 1989, they were, indeed, 2-3 times lower, than Western. Since then, however, freeing of prices inside Russia, together with monopolistic nature of the ex-Soviet economy, resulted in sharp soaring of internal prices up to (and sometimes even higher than) world level. So, the Russian suppliers well may face the problem of their prices being too high for the market.

One correct argument about Russian entry to the global space market is that admittance of Russia to the global market must be accompanied by opening of the internal Russian market for outside suppliers. This issue was basically resolved with the acceptance of the Russian legislation "On space activity". The legislation provides equal rights to all participants of space activity, both domestic and foreign. (4)

Note in this respect, that space launches are responsible for just about one tenth of global space market with ground equipment and services representing about three fourth. (5) Hence, full involvement of Russia into a global space market will apparently open more sale opportunities, than consume.

Western space industries, which also suffer from budget cuts, caused by the end of the Cold War, have reasons to object to their governments contracting Russian firms for joint space projects job. However, the Russian involvement is not a cause, but the consequence of Western space budgets problems. In a current international environment space powers lack commitment to costly performance-driven projects, rather than funds themselves. The new emphasis on cost-effectiveness of space investments means for the programs, like (former) Freedom Space Station, that, unless savings owing to Russian inclusion, they might have been axed at all.

In more distant perspective, widening of contractor base promotes general competitiveness and enhances effectiveness of future space developments.

Concern 2.

Differences in style of management and business-making may, indeed, pose a problem in space commerce operations and, moreover, in long-term joint space programs. Reported problems with the Russian space program were

  • difficulty in understanding authority distribution in the management network; [8]
  • Russian manufacturer's belief, that they are in charge of the whole project [9]

These shortcomings are being cured as the Russian space program management is being restructured on a basis of principles, accepted in the West. The RKA now builds his relations with the industry on the same contractual basis, as NASA, CNES, etc., and it doesn't take Russian manufacturers too long to understand, that a music is ordered by those, who pay.

Concern 3.

Political stability in Russia is an issue, which puts main uncertainty into prospects of long-term cooperation with the country. However, the international cooperation itself is a powerful tool to enhance this stability.

Employment of Russian space potential for an international peaceful projects would divert these capability from more dangerous applications, or prevent them from being left unemployed. This would directly contribute to social stability and ease concerns about proliferation of space- and missile-related technologies to the Third World countries, which is an obvious alternative to cooperation with the West.

This was clearly seen in a case of Indian-Russian cryogenic engines contract. The Russian government finally agreed to adhere to the Missile Technology Control Regime and to reset the deal with India in accordance with the MTCR guidelines because it envisioned more benefits from cooperation with the West, than from selling space technology to India.

Meanwhile, the United States, essentially, until summer of 1993, looked much less responsive to ideas of space cooperation, than Russia expected. The cautious American approach, understandable for Westerners, was hardly explainable in a view of the Russian side, which suffered from the end of the Cold War much stronger than the United States. As a results, suspicion grew in the Russian industry and some defense-related circles, that the US were reluctant to cooperate or admit Russia to the international market and intended just to subvert Russian capabilities and steal Russian front-edge technologies or buy them out for nothing.

Combined with economic difficulties, these feelings add popularity to extreme Nationalist and Communist Parties and promote the very same political instability, which is potentially capable of re-initiation of the Cold War. (6)

One general recommendation for smoothing, if not resolving the above concerns, is for Western space industrial enterprises to establish more joint ventures with appropriate Russian firms.

Use of an such an alliances in marketing of space services would prevent accusations in non-market nature of purely Russian competitors. Joint ventures would enable easier and faster introduction of Western standards and management style, wherever necessary. And, finally, they would become a powerful policy stabilizing factor. People, who got personal experience in working and living under normal conditions will never support a recovery of totalitarian system.


2 Concluding remarks

With the end of the Cold War Russia is rushing to all kinds of international space activity, which is considered by the industry as a way of surviving through economic transformation and by the administration - as a way of integration into global political and economic framework and as a boost for future progress in high technologies.

Curtailing of the policy-driven space efforts all over the world gives some reasoning for protectionism to national space industries as opposed to free international cooperation. This is especially applicable against Russia, whose extensive space capabilities and appropriate ambitions would stiffen competition for scarce space allocations and whose political peculiarities allow doubts about long-term reliability.

However, will we be happier, if problems of building-up and sustaining mutually beneficial cooperation will be replaced by a crystal clear posture of the Cold War II?



1. "End of Cold War Did Not Ease to Russia Way to Market of Space Services", Izvestia, 24 June 1993, p.3. (in Russian)

2. "Going-Out-of-Business Sale For Soviet Space Program", New York Times, 8 August 1993, pp.1,17.

3. "House Quartet Challenges New Station Plan", Space News, 29 November - 5 December 1993, pp.1,20.

4. "RKA Calls for Help On Mars Mission", Space News, 25 - 31 October 1993, pp.1,18.

5. "Vesti" Information Program, Russian TV, 23:00 13 December 1993 (in Russian)

6. Maxim Tarasenko "Transformation of the Soviet Space Program After the Cold War", Science & Global Security, 1994 (to be published).

7. "American and Russian Intelligences Turning Green", Izvestia, 30 October 1993, p.7 (in Russian).

8. Marcia S. Smith "Russia/U.S. Space Interaction: A Trip Report With Observations and Options", Congressional Research Secvice Report 92-774 SPR, October 27, 1992.

9. "Russian Express Role Complicates Joint Flight", Aviation Week & Space Technology, 16 August 1993, p.71.



1) This is an example of a drawback, which led to an advantage. Shorter longevity of the Soviet spacecraft promoted the development of an extensive SLV production capacity and of launch support infrastructure, capable of as much as 100 space launches per year.

2) There was an intentional 4-month break in Mir occupancy in 1989. It was caused by a budget shortfall.

3) Starting from 1974 the USSR/Russia performed 111 launches to GEO, nine of which failed. (as of Dec.1, 1993. To become 112 the Gals launch, due this month).

4) The exception is that contractors for space projects, included into the Federal space program, the foreign shareholding must not exceed 49 per cent. "The Law of the Russian Federation On Space Activity", Rossiyskaya Gazeta, 6 October 1993.

5) According to Aviation Week & Space Technology, in 1992 of total incomes from space-related sales 9% came from commercial launches; 17% - from satellites manufacturing; 28% - from services and 46% - from ground equipment.

6) Noteworthy, that in the last Russian elections the leader of extreme nationalist Liberal Demicratic Party was elected from the district, where major space enterprises reside, including NPO Energia.