New Russian law threatens space journalists

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The Russian government is preparing to crack down on reporting on its state space company Roscosmos or its space program in general, Ars Technica made its first report on Wednesday, by forcing all journalists who touch on a long list of subjects to declare themselves “foreign agents”.

In September, Russian authorities acting on the orders of President Vladimir Putin began to step up efforts to declare independent media outlets which they say receive any kind of funding from abroad as so-called “foreign agents,” citing a law of 2012 originally designed target non-profit organizations and NGOs. Groups or individuals with such a designation are officially viewed as foreign actors seeking to influence Russian policy at the behest of an outside power. “Foreign agents” face a variety of restrictions, including mandatory disclosure in published documents and submission of quarterly financial reports to the Department of Justice, with violations punishable by fines or imprisonment. The The guard reported there is no known way to be removed from the list.

According to Ars Technica, a law in Russia published in early October by the Federal Security Service (FSB) extends forced disclosures of foreign agents to virtually anyone covering the country’s military activities or space programs. The Guardian reported that the law specifies 60 subjects subject to the warrant, which applies whenever information in these categories could be obtained by foreign governments or organizations. This could refer to any type of print or internet publication.

Ars Technica was able to translate some examples that apply specifically to space.

Space-specific categories include information on Roscosmos’ “procedure, timing and amount of funding for organizational restructuring programs”, “status of settlements with Russian organizations” and “results of financial activities and economic for a quarter (year). The list then includes information on equity funding of Roscosmos, the Ministry of Defense and organizations in the ‘field of space activities’; information on’ conversion, production capacity, plans and results restructuring of organizations “from Roscosmos, and information on” new technologies, materials, components that give new properties to products “from Roscosmos.

There are exemptions for covering entirely scientific or civilian missions in space, but as noted by Ars Technica, it is “nearly impossible” to demarcate where the line would be crossed, as the Russian military intervenes. in practically the whole area.

In short, the law could be applied to almost anything related to the finances or management of Roscosmos, as well as any technology it works on or the operational details of space missions. Russian blogger Katya Pavlushchenko immediately announced that she would stop covering space activities because trying to discern which subjects would fall under the law would be like walking through a minefield.

The disclaimer is as follows: “This report (material) was created or distributed by foreign mass media channels performing the functions of a foreign agent and / or a Russian legal entity performing the functions of a foreign agent ”. Of course, it should be obvious to anyone familiar with even a little bit of Putin and his United Russia party’s crackdown on dissent in recent years that this is not meant to protect Russian citizens from foreign disinformation, but to prevent anyone to post embarrassing information.

According to the Guardian, other topics covered by the new law include military procurement; information on military morale, troop movements or service history; investigation of allegations of abuse by the security forces or the military; and many elements of defense policy and arms development.

Russia’s military and space programs have seen major scandals in recent years and this type of law could be helpful in removing any future embarrassment. For example, Dmitry Rogozin, the notoriously combative head of Roscosmos, and his agency were mired in scandal in recent years. The space program has faced claims of widespread fraud and corruption, such as the transplant during the construction of the Vostochny Cosmodrome, which, according to the Russian authorities, resulted in the loss of 11 billion rubles out of the 91 billion allocated to the project. Rogozin lives strangely tall even for an official with a salary of around $ 460,000, noted Ars Technica, while some Roscosmos facilities cannot pay their garbage bills. Several projects of the space company suffered major technical problems over the past several years, including a space station module that mistakenly triggered its thrusters and a Soyuz rocket thruster failure that triggered an emergency return of the team to Earth.

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