Putin’s pride shaken as India’s moon landing highlights Russia’s demise | world report

India this week celebrated the successful landing on the moon – a massive, globally recognized achievement that has been in the making for years and is a testament to the country’s evolving scientific and technological prowess. But in Moscow, where a similar high-profile attempt had failed just days earlier, victory rubbed salt in the recent wound.

India’s success meant it became the fourth country, alongside the US, China and the Soviet Union, to land a spacecraft on the moon and underscored its growing capabilities as a space power.

Amid the praise of world leaders, the Kremlin released an official statement from Russian President Vladimir Putin, who dutifully delivered his “heartfelt congratulations” to Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the Indian space program.

“This is a major advance in space exploration and of course a testament to India’s impressive advances in science and technology,” the statement said.

But for Putin, this success means even more embarrassment. Its own lunar mission was abruptly cut short earlier in the week when an engine overfired 43 seconds, scuttling a much-needed chance to assert Russia’s power and pride at home and abroad. And that was the start of a week in which he was forced to attend an international summit via videoconference for fear of arrest on an outstanding warrant for international human rights abuses. Days also preceded the suspicious sudden death of an up-and-coming political opponent. More broadly, the latest black eye comes as the 70-year-old autocrat sees a challenge to his leadership for the first time in nearly a quarter-century, growing cynicism over his unprovoked invasion of Ukraine, limited prospects for economic expansion and a potential growth-destabilizing reelection bid in the country next year.

It was almost inevitable that the space setback would come to be seen by some as emblematic of the country’s larger struggles.

Photos: space over time

386636 07: UNDATED FILE PHOTO: Russia's Mir Space Station is seen against backlit Earth after separating from Space Shuttle Atlantis. On March 12, 2001, it was reported that the aging Mir space station will descend into Earth's atmosphere on March 20 and eventually land in the Pacific Ocean.

“Russia’s run-down space program reflects the state of the nation itself, including the surprisingly poor performance of the Russian military in its war against Ukraine,” Leroy Chiao, a former NASA astronaut, wrote in one opinion piece. “Instead of turning his country back into a ‘great power’, Putin has shown the world how badly Russia is in decline. The deplorable state of the Moscow space program is only the latest confirmation of this.”

There were reasons to believe that the atrophy was not that severe. For the most part, Russia has been a reliable partner on the International Space Station, despite geopolitical turmoil, and for years it has been tasked with ferrying astronauts to and from the orbiting laboratory. In addition, there were no major successes – especially in recent times.

According to Kari Bingen, director of the Center for Strategic and International Studies’ Aerospace Security Project, challenges to Russia’s space program include Western sanctions and an ongoing brain drain.

“The Russians haven’t done that for decades,” says Bingen. “The sanctions that have been imposed on their aerospace industry and space program – they are having an effect. I would also say that there is a brain drain in Russia. Putin is sending his young people to an illegal war, not to the aerospace industry.”

The loss of bright minds to sustain the program “will have a longer-term impact on their technical capabilities but also on their standing as a space power within the international community.”

One such implication is a joint lunar exploration pact signed by China and Russia in March 2021, while cementing a larger “borderless” strategic partnership they would announce less than a year later. Russia’s ability to contribute to this effort was questionable even before its recent failure, which has coincided with signs of disagreement between Beijing and Moscow over Ukraine.

But just as importantly, it further thwarts Putin’s ambition to portray Russia as an international power. Over the past decade, he has pursued such a goal, interfering in foreign affairs such as Russia’s intervention in the Syrian civil war, testing the defenses of the NATO alliance, and interfering in and working on the 2016 US election Undermining interests in flashpoints like Iran, Afghanistan or North Korea. At home, Putin set out to stoke national pride, spending fortunes on public infrastructure projects like roads and bridges, and huge sports complexes surrounded by newly built villages to bring the world to events like the Olympic Games and international football Bringing the World Cup to Russia.

As for space, Putin set about building a state-of-the-art launch complex. However, the project was plagued by cost overruns and widespread corruption in the country, perhaps foreshadowing the difficulties the Russian program would face. This took the price to over $2 billion and dozens of officers were fired or imprisoned before the facility even opened.

Now, as the value of the ruble has plummeted and the war effort requires ever greater capital outlay, the failure of the lunar mission has proved just the opposite: proof that Russia is unable to compete globally, being in the shadow of the Soviet Union acts successes in the launch of the first satellite, the orbit of the first astronaut and the successful landing of an unmanned spacecraft on the moon in the last century.

“Russia’s legacy from the Cold War will be just that — a legacy — unless Russia actually makes it on its own,” said Victoria Samson, director of the Washington office of the Secure World Foundation, a non-profit organization dedicated to peaceful exploration of the planet space. told CNN.

Yuri Borisov, head of Russia’s state-controlled space agency, blamed the fiasco on the long time since the last lunar mission, which took place in 1976, when Russia was still part of the Soviet Union.

“The negative experience of interrupting the lunar program for almost 50 years is the main reason for the failures,” Borisov said.

Others have pointed to systemic problems, such as uneven and inexperienced leadership, reliance on inferior building materials, and chronically low salaries within the sector for various failures. And of course something as simple as stupid pride cannot be eliminated. Some speculated that Russia’s rush to get India to the moon faster may have led it to ignore problems that arose during the mission.

“It looks like things didn’t go according to plan, but they decided not to change the schedule to prevent the Indians from taking first place,” noted Vitaly Egorov, a popular Russian space blogger.

But it also shows how difficult it is to land on the moon, considering this was India’s second attempt after a failed mission in 2019, after an Israeli lunar mission in 2019 suffered a similar fate.

“India’s success today is a good reminder that space missions are risky and the technology is difficult,” says Bingen.

And not everyone described the decline of Russia’s space program as so severe.

Henry Hertzfeld, research professor of space policy and international affairs at George Washington University, said the country is still performing reasonably well in space.

“It’s not easy,” Hertzfeld said. “All nations run the risk of failing at some point.”

Despite the potential tarnish on Russian pride, Borisov said Monday that abandoning the lunar program was “the worst decision” and that the country should commit to more space missions as the US, China and other nations meet political, scientific and commercial needs Weigh the benefits of a permanent presence on the moon. Hertzfeld says he will not write off another moon landing attempt by Russia in the future. “It comes at a difficult time for them as India succeeds a few days later,” says Hertzfeld. “But I think given their history, given the history of the Soviet Union – they’ve landed on the moon before – it wouldn’t surprise me if they eventually came back with another attempt.”

Brian Ashcraft

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