Rumors on Russian social media networks and in select publications are swirling that the bombastic director general of Roscosmos, Dmitry Rogozin, will soon lose his position.
The Interfax news agency reports that Deputy Prime Minister Yury Borisov, who oversees the Russian space and defense industry, may be moved into the leadership of Roscosmos. Separately, Telegram channels have been citing other media making similar claims about Borisov and Rogozin.
To be clear, these remain rumors. And this is not the first time that speculation has intensified about the future of Rogozin, who took over command of Roscosmos—a sprawling, state-owned corporation responsible for the vast majority of Russia’s spaceflight activities—four years ago. His has been a troubled and controversial tenure, which, in addition to heated and destructive rhetoric, has seen the reliability and launch rate of Russian space vehicles decline.
The renewed speculation comes as Rogozin has continued to cut ties with—and speak belligerently about—the United States, Europe, and other partners in spaceflight who have supported Ukraine in the months since Russia’s invasion of that country.
Here is an abbreviated list of the controversies that Rogozin has been enmeshed in with Western officials in just the last week:
- July 7: NASA took the extremely rare step of publicly criticizing Roscosmos after it used the International Space Station for propaganda purposes, supporting breakaway regions of Ukraine. “NASA strongly rebukes Russia using the International Space Station for political purposes to support its war against Ukraine,” the space agency said. The European and Canadian space agencies also joined the criticism.
- July 11: The Russian publication Aviation Explorer reported that Rogozin refused to take a call from NASA Administrator Bill Nelson in the wake of the ISS propaganda incident. “There is nothing to talk about. Let the sanctions be lifted first,” Rogozin reportedly said.
- July 12: Rogozin mocked US President Joe Biden on his Telegram channel after NASA revealed the first photograph from the James Webb Space Telescope in a ceremony at the White House. Rogozin said Biden needed a big magnifying glass and went to the bathroom for a long time.
- July 12: The European Space Agency said it is “officially” terminating work with Russia on the ExoMars probe to land on Mars. Rogozin responded with an angry message on this Telegram account, calling ESA chief Josef Aschbacher an “irresponsible bureaucrat.”
- July 12: In a tit-for-tat move, Rogozin threatened to halt Russian cooperation on the use of a new European robotic arm on the space station. This arm was developed for ESA by a number of European countries and launched to the Russian segment of the space station in July 2021. Rogozin’s comment raised questions about whether a spacewalk scheduled for next week to work on the robotic arm, by Roscosmos cosmonaut Oleg Artemyev and ESA astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti, would proceed.
The relationship between Russia and its Western partners in space has deteriorated significantly since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. However, NASA and its Western partners have sought to keep a professional arrangement with Russia’s civil space operators in order to keep the International Space Station flying safely. They have done so despite Rogozin’s provocations.
But Rogozin’s behavior seems to be getting worse. The recent actions by Rogozin suggest that he is increasingly unhinged, isolated, desperate, or some combination thereof as rumors about his future circulate.
Meanwhile, NASA and Roscosmos continue to work toward a potential “seat swap” in September that would see a NASA astronaut, Frank Rubio, fly on a Soyuz spacecraft and for the first time have a Russian cosmonaut, Anna Kikina, fly on SpaceX’s Crew Dragon spacecraft. A final decision needs to be made within the next couple of weeks, and it cannot be an easy one for NASA, given the tumultuous leadership of Roscosmos.