It’s official: Dmitry Rogozhin has been removed from his coveted post as head of the Russian space agency Roscosmos, effective immediately. But now that the Kremlin has ‘fired’ Rogzin as CEO of Roscosmos – what’s next? And what do we know about Roggene’s successor?
News of Rogozin’s departure came directly from the Kremlin. In a press release, ardent nationalist and longtime Putin ally Dmitry Rogzin “has been dismissed from the post of General Director of the state corporation ‘Roscosmos’,” by presidential decree. Russian Deputy Prime Minister for Space and Defense Yuri Borisov will replace Rogzin.
Meet the new boss, same as the old boss
Borisov found his way to Roscosmos along the same path as Rogzin. Both men served as deputy prime ministers, overseeing the entire Russian military-industrial complex before landing at Roscosmos. And like Rogjin, in Putin’s Russia, it’s a downgrade. It is difficult to find an equivalent for American politics. It’s like getting a job from ‘head of your entire nation’s aerospace and defense industry’ to NASA Administrator Bill Nelson. With all due respect to Mr. Nelson, he doesn’t just draw the salary that Roggeen does.
In fact, Russian political activist Alexei Navalny compared Rogozhin to Nelson — unfavorably — in a video sharply critical of local misery and corruption at Roscosmos.
“We have nothing against big salaries,” Navalny said in the video. “But why is it so big? Is there really so much extra money in our budget? How can you demand transparency from people at the bottom when the numbers don’t match the public access documents at the very top?
“Dear Mr. Putin, let me do a very simple thing for you,” added Navalny. “Since you started talking about transparency, and since you continue to demand it, I will point my finger very high, very close to you, Mr. President. Who is in charge of it? Roscosmos. And who is in charge of Roscosmos? The one you appointed, Dmitri Rogzin.
You may or may not be shocked to discover that Navalny is now in a gulag.
Corruption runs deep at Roscosmos
When Rogzin took over as deputy prime minister in 2011, Putin tasked him with overhauling Russia’s military-industrial complex. The state space agency Roscosmos was in crisis. Just before Rogzin took his seat in government, the head of Russia’s state construction company got his pink slip (and prison time) for embezzling money from the Vostochny Cosmodrome, Putin’s pet spaceport.
In a desperate attempt at reform in 2015, Russia dissolved its space agency and resurrected it as the state space agency Roscosmos. Corporation. Then in 2018, Putin appointed Rogozin as head of Roscosmos. Rogue’s mission? Take over construction in Vostochny and “drain the swamp.”
Instead, Rogzin spends his time mourning civilians on Twitter as if it were his day job. Which is technically. At least, he must be getting paid to do it. Rogzin, a longtime Putin loyalist, spent a decade performing for an audience. Now he drives a Benz that people bought him. Meanwhile, the concrete at Vostochny is still unemployed.
Birds flock together — until the cat comes along
Rogozin was apparently “rightsized” from Roscosmos due to poor performance. This happens when a yes man gets a high-level job. Putin made his anger against corruption public at Vostochny. The reasons for Borissov’s resignation as Deputy Prime Minister are equally clear. In the wake of his devastating Ukraine invasion, Putin is cleaning house. Like Rogzin, Borisov failed to perform, instead enriching himself at the expense of the people. According to the Moscow Times, “Borysov left office amid the failure of the state rehabilitation program, which influenced the course of the war in Ukraine. Under him, the Russian defense industry received 2 trillion rubles a year, but the Russian army entered Ukraine in outdated equipment, including paper maps, and within three months it had virtually exhausted its stockpile of precision-guided missiles.”
Russian-language sources are deeply divided over whether the bombastic former space chief is still in Putin’s good graces. This week, a report emerged that things between Putin and Rogjin are all Skittles and beer. The independent Russian news agency Meduza cited anonymous ‘sources close to the Kremlin’ – anonymously, naturally – as claiming that Rogzin is definitely still “on Putin’s side.”
“The president likes him — and has for a long time,” according to Medusa’s source.
However, Ars Technica reported that under Rogzin’s watch, the reliability and launch rate of Russian space vehicles actually declined. According to the Moscow Times, in 2020, “Roscosmos did not meet about a third of the goals of the state space program – 30 out of 83. Out of 26 activities in the construction of the cosmodrome – the area from which Rogzin started in his new position – the company completed only six.
Where is Roggen going? We’ll find out “in due course”.
Dmitry Rogozin’s escalating war of words with the Western world has mostly caused a lot of pressure, although he has done a great job of isolating Russia from the world’s collective efforts in spaceflight. After Russia invaded Ukraine this spring, much of the Western world imposed economic sanctions against Russia. So, Rogzin announced that Russia would no longer allow America access to the Soyuz rockets that we use to bring astronauts to and from the International Space Station. He also revoked access to Russia’s Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, from where Soyuz rockets are launched.
However, hours after the Kremlin fired Rogzin as head of the Russian space program, NASA released a statement that American astronaut Frank Rubio would fly to the ISS with two Russian astronauts on a Soyuz rocket. The crew is scheduled to take off from Baikonur in September. Another American astronaut, Loral O’Hara, would fly later on a separate Soyuz mission. In addition, Russian cosmonauts Anna Kikina and Andrei Fedeyev will fly separate missions to the ISS aboard a Crew Dragon.
Meanwhile, Rogozhin himself may head to eastern Ukraine. Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov told state news agency TASS this morning that Rogzin, 58, would find a new job “in time,” according to the Moscow Times.
Peskov’s comments may have been a veiled reference to the Kremlin’s ongoing efforts to annex Ukraine. This fall, the illegal, Russian-occupied “People’s Republic” of Donetsk and Luhansk in eastern Ukraine intends to go through the motions of holding a referendum to decide whether to become part of Russia. (And, as we all know, Russian elections are always legitimate, free and fair.) If the occupied territories decide to secede from Ukraine and join Russia, Meduza’s sources predict that Rogozhin will be curator of the uncertain new federal district.
Photo courtesy of the Russian Presidential Press and Information Office