Former national security officials and lawmakers have expressed alarm over NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine’s October invitation to Dmitry Rogozin, a rocket-science technocrat who is under U.S. sanctions for his role, as deputy prime minister, in Russia’s 2014 annexation of Crimea.
Rogozin has a long record of being an ultanationalist, homophobic and racist.
Democrat and Republican lawmakers, as well as former national security officials, have said the invitation undermines U.S. sanctions and would provide a U.S. government-approved platform to a Russian ultranationalist.
“It absolutely sends the wrong message to lift sanctions, even temporarily, for the purpose of inviting him to speak to students at one of our nation’s premier universities,” said Sen. Mark Warner of Virginia, who is the top Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee and helped lead the committee’s investigation into 2016 Russian election interference.
Bridenstine invited Rogozin to visit NASA’s headquarters and Rice University in Houston early this year. The former three-term congressman from Oklahoma told TASS, the Russian state news agency, that he had succeeded in temporarily waiving sanctions on the Russian counterpart because of the need for a “strong working relationship” with Rogozin.
“This is appalling,” said Evelyn Farkas, Obama’s former deputy assistant secretary of defense for Russia, Ukraine and Eurasia. “It’s utterly inappropriate given who he is and the fact that he is on our sanctions list.”
Neither the U.S. nor Russia has announced a specific date for a Rogozin visit. NASA spokeswoman Megan Powers said, “Planning for a potential visit by the Director-General is still underway.”
“The U.S. / Russian relationship in space dates back to the 1970s,” she wrote in an email. “NASA has historically invited the head of the Russian space agency to visit the United States. Following this precedent, and Administrator Bridenstine’s October visit to Russia to participate in crew launch activities to the International Space Station, NASA invited the Director-General of Roscosmos to visit NASA facilities in the United States and discuss our ongoing space-related cooperation.”