Sanctions Threaten to Derail Russian Satellite Industry

Proton rocket lifts off on July 31, 2020. (Credit: Roscosmos)

The economic sanctions imposed on Russia by Europe over the invasion of Ukraine could be a second serious blow to the Russian satellite manufacturing industry, Anatoly Zak writes at Russianspaceweb.com.

The first blow occurred after the United States imposed a ban on the export of satellite technology following the Russian annexation of Ukraine’s Crimea region in 2014. Russian manufacturers, who were heavily reliant on Western technology, took a two-pronged approach: increase cooperation with Europe, and attempt to build up a domestic capability for the components they previously bought from the West.

Domestic efforts have been slow, however, and now imports from Europe have dried up due to sanctions. Zak writes:

But in 2022, the Russian communications satellite projects had hit a real wall, along with the rest of the Russian economy, after Putin’s new invasion of Ukraine. The overwhelmingly wide sanctions against the Kremlin left practically no chance for Russia to complete any of its communications satellites in the development pipeline at the time due to their dependency on Western payloads.

Conceivably, Russia could turn to China for necessary components or/and Moscow could try again developing necessary competencies inside the country, but given little signs of progress on both of those fronts in the past, it could probably take years if not decades before all the technological gaps could be closed and it would be even more difficult to do under much harsher economic conditions and export controls. It is also a question whether China would be interested in boosting strategically important industries in Russia with potential military implications or whether it would want to challenge the Western sanctions regime by putting at risk its far more important trade relations with the United States.

China’s decision on how much to help Vladimir Putin ameliorate the sanctions will go a long way to determining the future of Russia.