Staunton, June 11 – Much has been made of the fact that the US has become dependent on certain Russian rocket motors and Russian space vehicles to service the International Space Station, but Nikolay Testoyedov, a specialist on the Russian space program, says that the dependency is actually the other way around.
According to him, up to 75 percent of the electronic components for Russian satellites come from the US. Consequently, if it retaliates should Moscow refuse to sell RD-180 rocket motors to Washington – which Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin has threatened – Russia’s satellite program would be frozen for at least two years.
“The imported electronic components in our satellites represent 25 to 75 percent of the total in communications; in military ones, somewhat less; in commercial ones, more,” Testoyedov says. Of these imported components, approximately 83-87 percent come from the United States thus giving Washington the whip hand.
This issue has heated up in recent days given that the United States has suggested that it will intensify its sanctions regime against Russia because of Moscow’s actions in Ukraine. Testoyedov says he expects sanctions to be imposed on precisely this sector of production because of its national security implications.
If that happens, he continues, Moscow will face serious problems not this year – the components are already in hand – but in the next two after that. Later, “after 2019,” he suggests, Russian satellite producers plan to come up with ones that do not require these “critical elements.”
Vladimir Shvaryev, the deputy head of the Moscow Center for the Analysis of the Global Arms Trade, says that he agrees that Russia’s aero-space sector “strongly depends” on American electronic components and that Moscow will find it hard to get along without imports in that area for some time.
If the US does impose sanctions in this sector, he says, Moscow “could buy everything necessary from China.” Such purchases, however, could provoke the West into imposing limitations on the export of key technologies to China, largely because controlling exports from China is almost impossible in this sector.
Yury Karash, a corresponding member of the Russian Academy of Cosmonautics, has his doubts about China as a supplier, not only because Chinese production is not as good as American in this area and because buying from China is not import substitution but import shifting, but also because China is also unreliable, at least in the longer term.
“I wouldn’t begin to trust China either,” he says. “There is the suspicion that Beijing under favorable circumstances would not be against seizing a significant part of Russia.” And even if it doesn’t do that anytime soon, the new Russian ‘East’ Cosmodrome is only 100 kilometers from the Russian-Chinese border and thus a tempting target.