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Russia Warns Western Nations over Space Satellites Used to Help Ukraine

By Vusala Abbasova October 16, 2023

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Russia has long accused Washington and its allies of employing space and aerial reconnaissance assets to provide the Ukrainian Armed Forces with critical information about Russian military activities. / SpaceX

The armed conflict in outer space may be more than just science fiction as Russia has issued a warning that Western space satellites used in conflicts may become a "legitimate target" for Russian strikes.

This remark came from Vladimir Ermakov, the head of the Russian Foreign Ministry’s non-proliferation and arms control department, who criticized Western countries for compromising the sustainability of peaceful space activities by utilizing civilian satellites for military purposes.

“Due to the actions of Western countries, the sustainability of peaceful space activities, as well as numerous socio-economic processes on earth, which the well-being of people, primarily in developing countries, depends on, are exposed to unjustified risks,” Ermakov said on Monday.

He also questioned the legality of using satellites for military purposes, citing concerns within the framework of the 1967 Outer Space Treaty.

The Outer Space Treaty, in effect since October 10, 1967, prohibits the stationing of weapons of mass destruction in outer space and bans military activities on celestial bodies. It establishes binding regulations governing the peaceful exploration and use of space, emphasizing its exclusive use for peaceful purposes.

Russia has long accused Washington and its allies of employing space and aerial reconnaissance assets to provide the Ukrainian Armed Forces with critical information about Russian military activities. According to the Russian Foreign Ministry, the orbital constellation comprises approximately 450 satellites, primarily commercial Earth remote sensing and radiotechnical monitoring satellites. These satellites play a pivotal role in target identification, reconnaissance, and intercepting radio communication messages.

In addition to space systems, reconnaissance aircraft, and UAVs, daily flights from air bases in various European countries are utilized to monitor the situation. The data gathered is analyzed by US forces in Europe and NATO to assess Russian troop movements, a crucial component of their strategic military operation. The processed information is then transmitted to the Armed Forces of Ukraine through multiple communication channels, including satellite communications systems like SpaceX's Starlink.

SpaceX, founded by billionaire Elon Musk, has been providing Ukraine with Starlink internet services since the onset of the conflict in 2022. These services, facilitated through private donations and a contract with a US foreign aid agency, have become essential for Ukrainian troops, enabling seamless communications.

Russia's warning comes amidst ongoing attempts to disrupt internet services in Ukraine, including efforts to block Starlink in the region. Despite these challenges, SpaceX has managed to counter these attacks by fortifying the service's software, ensuring continued communication capabilities for Ukrainian military forces.

Since sending troops into Ukraine on February 24, 2022, Russia has repeatedly warned that the increasing Western support for Ukraine could trigger an open conflict between the nuclear powers.

Russian authorities have repeatedly criticized Western nations for their military assistance to Ukraine, arguing that the aid is not only fuelling the conflict but also boosting the risk of direct confrontation between Russia and NATO.

In addition, Moscow has long accused the West of provoking conflict with the expansion of NATO and the deployment of its weapon systems in proximity to the Russian territories.