Shamil Zhumatov / REUTERS A Soyuz spacecraft en route to the International Space Station takes off in Kazakhstan, March 2016.

Russia's Position in Space

Cooperation and Decline

In the years after the collapse of the Soviet Union, outer space seemed to offer one of the most fruitful arenas for cooperation among Russia, the United States, and the European Union. The management of the International Space Station, the use of Russian-made engines in U.S. Atlas V rockets, and the INTEGRAL space telescope, which is jointly managed by Russian, U.S., and EU scientists, are among the best-known results of this collaboration.

Nevertheless, Russia's state-owned space industry has struggled to stay alive in the global market. Since around 2005, new cooperative ventures have appeared less frequently. Some joint projects have been phased out, and industrial cooperation between Russian space firms and their U.S. and European counterparts has sputtered.

To keep the industry afloat, the Russian government has relied on military space projects and expensive manned space flights, which are not as scientifically productive as the development of new research satellites. Of Russia's 130 satellites, 80 serve military purposes, and manned flights account for more than half of the spending of Russia's civil space program. Space exploration is not a priority for the Kremlin. Indeed, a number of scientific projects that Russia had aimed to complete between 2006 and 2015 have since been postponed.

Russia's annexation of Crimea in 2014 and its aggression against Ukraine over the two years since have made these problems even more difficult for Russia to manage. U.S. and EU sanctions have crippled the Russian space industry by depriving it of the advanced components needed to build many communications and navigation satellites. Yet Russia still sees cooperation in space as a useful foreign policy tool, and despite the recent decline in international collaboration, in the years ahead, it will seek to demonstrate its status as a great power in space, much as it has for decades. 

An American astronaut and a Russian cosmonaut at a space center near Moscow, September 2010.

An American astronaut and a Russian cosmonaut at a space center near Moscow, September 2010.


Since the early years of the Cold War, Soviet leaders and their Russian successors have used

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