Russia Launches ‘Counterspace’ Weapon Near American Satellite, Prompting Response From US Officials

Photo Credit: Pavel Pavlov / Anadolu Agency / Getty Images
Photo Credit: Pavel Pavlov / Anadolu Agency / Getty Images

The United States has accused Russia of launching a counterspace weapon with the capability of attacking an American satellite within its vicinity. Deputy US Ambassador Robert Wood made the revelation while making a speech to the United Nations’ (UN) Security Council on May 21, 2024.

Robert Wood sitting at the desk designated for the United States at the United Nations (UN) Security Council
Deputy US Ambassador Robert Wood at the United Nations (UN) Security Council, May 2024. (Photo Credit: Michael M. Santiago / Getty Images)

Russia’s counterspace weapons are designed for low orbit, where, once launched, they can attack and/or destroy satellites. The deployment in question occurred on May 16, with a Soyuz-2.1b launch vehicle taking off from the Plesetsk Cosmodrome, some 500 miles north of Moscow. At least nine satellites – including a military “inspector” (COSMOS 2576) – are alleged to have been deployed.

In a statement, a spokesperson for the US Space Command said, “We have observed nominal activity and assess it is likely a counterspace weapon capable of attacking other satellites in low Earth orbit.”

Robert Wood called the launch “troubling,” with a separate source telling CNN that the US government had been anticipating that one would soon occur. As well, two Notices to Airmen (NOTAMs) had been issued by Russia: one for the launch and another for the re-entry of a Russian space launch booster. This allowed the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) and the Northern Command to track the weapon after its deployment.

In response to the allegations, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Ryabkov simply stated to Russian state media, “I don’t think we should respond to any fake news from Washington,” with Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov adding, “We are not violating anything.”

People walking by a platform with a Soyuz MS-25 launch vehicle sat atop it
Soyuz MS-25 launch vehicle at the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, March 2024. (Photo Credit: Natalia Berezhnaya / Roscosmos / Handout / Anadolu / Getty Images)

CNN notes this isn’t the first time Russia has deployed such a weapon into space, with others sent into orbit in 2019 and ’22. The US has long been concerned about Russia’s development of nuclear weapons – even more so, given advancing space technologies and the ongoing war in Ukraine.

An attempt by the US and Japan to pass a motion banning UN members states from developing space-based nuclear weapons was vetoed by Russia, which National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan said showed that, while President Vladimir Putin might claim to have no interest in developing such equipment, the country’s actions say differently.

More recently, Russia and Chin attempted to pass a resolution to prevent “for all time” the use of weapons in space, a move Robert Wood said was an attempt to gaslight representatives. The motion wasn’t approved by the Security Council.

Wood ended his speech by urging the Security Council to take a stand against Russia, saying:

“We urge you to join us in making clear to Russia that the world will not turn a blind eye to its dangerous and unprecedented efforts to develop a new satellite carrying a nuclear device, which undermines its obligations under the Outer Space Treaty and counters the views of an overwhelming majority of members of the Security Council.”

Soyuz-2.1a launch vehicle preparing to be deployed
Soyuz MS-24 launch vehicle at the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, September 2023. (Photo Credit: ANDREY BORODULIN / AFP / Getty Images)

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Pentagon spokesperson Maj. Gen. Patrick Ryder echoed these sentiments in a separate statement, saying, “We’ll continue to balance the need to protect our interests in space with our desire to preserve a stable and sustainable space environment.”

Clare Fitzgerald

Clare Fitzgerald is a Writer and Editor with eight years of experience in the online content sphere. Graduating with a Bachelor of Arts from King’s University College at Western University, her portfolio includes coverage of digital media, current affairs, history and true crime.

Among her accomplishments are being the Founder of the true crime blog, Stories of the Unsolved, which garners between 400,000 and 500,000 views annually, and a contributor for John Lordan’s Seriously Mysterious podcast. Prior to its hiatus, she also served as the Head of Content for UK YouTube publication, TenEighty Magazine.

In her spare time, Clare likes to play Pokemon GO and re-watch Heartland over and over (and over) again. She’ll also rave about her three Maltese dogs whenever she gets the chance.

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