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Kremlin dismisses US warning about Russian nuclear capability in space

Published 02/15/2024, 04:17 AM
Updated 02/15/2024, 06:06 PM
© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov attends a meeting between Russian President Vladimir Putin and Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi in Moscow, Russia December 7, 2023. Sputnik/Sergei Bobylev/Pool via REUTERS/File Photo

By Guy Faulconbridge, Patricia Zengerle and Steve Holland

MOSCOW/WASHINGTON (Reuters) -The Kremlin dismissed on Thursday a warning by the United States about Moscow's new nuclear capabilities in space, calling it a "malicious fabrication" and a trick by the White House aimed at getting U.S. lawmakers to approve more money to counter Russia.

The United States has told Congress and allies in Europe about new intelligence related to Russian nuclear capabilities that could pose an international threat. U.S. officials said the issue was a Russian anti-satellite weapon that was in development, not an immediate threat.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said he would not comment on the substance of the reports until the details were unveiled by the White House. But he said Washington's warning was clearly an attempt to get Congress to approve more money.

"It is obvious that the White House is trying, by hook or by crook, to encourage Congress to vote on a bill to allocate money; this is obvious," he told reporters.

"We'll see what tricks the White House will use."

Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov, Moscow's point man on arms control, accused the United States of "malicious fabrication", TASS reported.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken told reporters during a visit to Tirana, Albania, on Thursday that Washington was talking with allies and partners about the issue.

"This is not an active capability, but it is a potential one that we're taking very, very seriously. And I would expect that we'll have more to say soon, in fact very soon, so stay tuned for that," he said.

Russia's February 2022 invasion of Ukraine has triggered the biggest confrontation between the West and Russia since the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis. Both Moscow and Washington have warned of the risk of a conflict between NATO and Russia.

Russia and the United States are the biggest nuclear powers, together holding about 90% of the world's nuclear weapons. They also both have advanced military satellites orbiting the Earth.

SPACE NUKES?

White House national security spokesperson John Kirby (NYSE:KEX) told reporters that Russia is developing a space-based, anti-satellite capability that has not yet been deployed. He said U.S. President Joe Biden has requested direct diplomatic engagement with Moscow about it.

The nuclear component of what was being developed was not explained, but analysts said that it is more likely to be a nuclear-powered device to blind, jam or fry the electronics inside satellites than an explosive nuclear warhead.

Threatening satellites could cause all sorts of mischief: undermining communications, surveillance, intelligence and command and control around the world, including in the nuclear sphere.

Experts said the United States does not have the capability to counter such a weapon.

The threat came to light after U.S. Representative Mike Turner, chairman of the House of Representatives Intelligence Committee, issued an unusual statement warning of the threat. On Thursday, another Republican House member, Representative Andy Ogles, urged House Speaker Mike Johnson to investigate the impact Turner’s action may have had on foreign and domestic policy, asking whether he should remain chairman.

GLOBAL COMPETITION

White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan briefed congressional leaders, including Johnson and Turner, about the threat on Thursday.

House of Representatives Speaker Mike Johnson said later that House leaders had been aware of the issue for "a few weeks."

"It is a very serious matter. It does involve Russia," Johnson told reporters, adding that the administration and Congress would stay in close contact. "And it will be dealt with."

Turner said he had "great faith" in the Biden administration's response, and that officials had indicated that the issue is a Russian anti-satellite weapon.

The United States sees Russia and China as its biggest nation-state competitors, and says both are developing a range of new weapons systems, including nuclear, cyber and space capabilities.

Turner released his cryptic warning about the Russian threat as U.S. lawmakers debate whether to approve $95 billion in mostly military aid for Ukraine as it fights Russian invaders, Israel for its war in Gaza, and Taiwan to push back against China in the Indo-Pacific.

In the early years of the Cold War, after Russia leaped ahead in the space race and both sides developed intercontinental ballistic missiles, the West proposed a treaty to outlaw nuclear weapons in space.

© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov attends a meeting between Russian President Vladimir Putin and Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi in Moscow, Russia December 7, 2023. Sputnik/Sergei Bobylev/Pool via REUTERS/File Photo

The eventual result was the 1967 Outer Space Treaty, which bans putting any weapons of mass destruction into orbit or into outer space.

In recent years, disagreements between Moscow and Washington have eroded the framework of arms control treaties that sought to reduce the risk of nuclear war between them.

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