Russia Tests Anti-Satellite Weapon From Plesetsk

MOSCOW, Dec 19, 2020:: A top-secret missile launched from the Plesetsk cosmodrome in Arkhangelsk region earlier this week was a weapon capable of destroying satellites in low orbit. Indications of a launch from Plesetsk came as NOTAM warnings were issued for three areas in the Russian Arctic in a straight-line north from the cosmodrome. The areas were coincident with the different stages of a space missile's fall-down; east of Cape Kanin, over Novaya Zemlya and the last over Severnaya Zemlya.

Probably "Nudol" from Plesetsk will be launched on December 16, reserve date December 20, 2020. On December 14, the launch of "Angara-A5" from Plesetsk. Is it possible that "Angara-A5", in addition to the satellite, should launch a real target for the? The Pentagon sees the missile test as a rapidly advancing threat to its own space systems.

“Russia publicly claims it is working to prevent the transformation of outer space into a battlefield, yet at the same time Moscow continues to weaponize space by developing and fielding on-orbit and ground-based capabilities that seek to exploit U.S. reliance on space-based systems,” said Army General James Dickinson, a commander of the U.S. Space Command. According to the Space Command, Russia is developing several types of anti-satellite weapons. This week’s test is a missile launched from earth that can directly hit an enemy satellite and take it out. A second weapon under development is an on-orbit kinetic weapon. Based in space, such weapons could take out targets from orbit, in orbit.

The U.S. Space Command also pointed to the on-ground combat laser systems currently under development by the Russian Space Forces. "Russia has made space a warfighting domain by testing space-based and ground-based weapons intended to target and destroy satellites," according to the statement by General Dickinson. According to him, Russia demonstrated its on-orbit kinetic weapon system in 2017 and again in 2020. No details were attached to the statement. In April this year, The Barents Observer reported about this year’s first anti-satellite missile test from Plesetsk. That missile made a spectacular trace above two remote villages in the republic of Komi, north of the cosmodrome in northern Russia.

US Planning to Close Last Consulates in Russia

MOSCOW, Dec 18, 2020:: Donald Trump's outgoing administration is planning to close the two remaining US consulates in Russia, the State Department confirmed Saturday, as President-elect Joe Biden prepares to take office amid high tensions with Moscow. The US will close its consulate in the far eastern city of Vladivostok and suspend operations at its post in Yekaterinburg, a department spokesperson told AFP.

The decision followed consultation with Ambassador John Sullivan and was part of "efforts to ensure the safe and secure operation of the U.S. diplomatic mission in the Russian Federation," the spokesperson said. CNN reported that a State Department letter to Congress this month said the move was a response to "ongoing staffing challenges for the US Mission in Russia in the wake of the 2017 Russian-imposed personnel cap on the US Mission."

Ten diplomats assigned to the consulates will reportedly be relocated to the US embassy in Moscow, while 33 local staff will lose their jobs. The State Department did not confirm the numbers involved but said the "resulting realignment of personnel at U.S. Embassy Moscow will allow us to advance our foreign policy interests in Russia in the most effective and safe manner possible. "No action related to the Russian consulates in the United States is planned," the spokesperson added.

The closures would leave the embassy in Moscow as the United States' last diplomatic mission in Russia. Moscow ordered the closure of the US consulate in St Petersburg in March 2018 during a diplomatic spat sparked by the poisoning of Sergei Skripal on British soil. It was unclear whether the closures would happen before January 20, when President-elect Biden takes office. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Friday that Russia was "pretty clearly" behind a devastating cyberattack on several US government agencies that security experts said could allow attackers unfettered access to critical IT systems and electric power grids.

Yohannes Abraham, executive director for the Biden transition team, said the hack was of "great concern" and that the Biden administration would meet any cyberattacks with a response inflicting "substantial cost." Russia has denied any involvement in the incident.

Foreigners in Moscow Eligible for Russia’s Coronavirus Vaccine

MOSCOW, Dec 17, 2020:: Eligible Moscow-based foreigners can get vaccinated with Russia’s Sputnik V coronavirus vaccine as part of the mass rollout currently underway, a representative from the Moscow Health Department told The Moscow Times. Russia kicked off its nationwide vaccination campaign among medics, teachers and other high-risk workers in recent days. 

Foreign nationals including doctors and educators with valid passports, certificates of employment and public health insurance can sign up for the Sputnik V vaccine, which is being distributed at 70 Moscow clinics, a Health Department representative said Tuesday. A health insurance agency representative told The Moscow Times that only valid residence permit holders qualify for the compulsory health insurance policy, however, effectively excluding tourist and business visa holders.

Before the early December vaccine rollout, Russian health officials denied reports of paid Sputnik V immunization tours from Europe into Russia as a “scam.” “Covid-19 vaccinations on commercial terms, especially for tourists, are impossible,” Alexei Kuznetsov, an aide to Russia’s health minister, said in October. “Russians are the absolute priority in the vaccination. Commercial supplies can only be considered after the domestic need is met,” he was quoted as saying. Sputnik V’s developers have boasted of demand for 1.2 billion doses from more than 50 countries, with production agreements reached with India, China, Brazil, South Korea and other nations.

President Vladimir Putin, who announced Sputnik V’s registration in August before the start of its final clinical trials, acknowledged challenges with scaling up production earlier this fall. Public polls have also shown low trust levels toward Sputnik V among Russian respondents. Sputnik V’s developers expect post-registration trials to wrap up in May and plan to release final efficacy results, currently at 91.4% based on data obtained three weeks after the first of two shots, next month.