In the months since President Donald Trump directed the Pentagon to establish a sixth branch of the U.S. Armed Forces dedicated specifically to space defense, Russian officials have repeatedly issued statements seeming to suggest that this new U.S. endeavor would amount to an unprecedented militarization of space. America’s expansion into defending its orbital assets, Russia has accused, will invariably lead to deploying weapon systems in orbit — which would be a violation of the outer space treaty signed by both the United States and Russian precursor, the Soviet Union, decades ago.
However, as a number of revelations have since pointed out, it would seem the intent behind Russia’s accusations was not to prevent America from militarizing space, so much as it was meant to prevent nations like America from meddling in Russian orbital military operations. Last month, Assistant Secretary of State for Arms Control, Verification, and Compliance, Yleem D.S. Poblete, addressed the United Nations about Russia’s “inspector” satellites, which have demonstrated behavior so unusual (even compared to other maneuverable orbital assets) that the Pentagon believes it, and other satellites like it Russia has deployed, to be weapons. These platforms could potentially interfere with satellite operations or even nudge them onto a reentry orbit, destroying the satellite without ever having to fire a shot.
Now France, too, is chiming in about Russia’s unusual orbital assets. According to new statements made by French Defense Minister Florence Parly, Russia’s “Luch-Olymp” satellite closed with a joint French and Italian military communications satellite last year, using what she referred to as “big ears” to attempt to eavesdrop on the secure communications link that satellite provided the European allies.
“Trying to listen to one’s neighbor is not only unfriendly. It’s called an act of espionage,” Parly said to the press. “It got close. A bit too close. So close that one really could believe that it was trying to capture our communications.”