The United States lashed out at Russia for its ‘dangerous and irresponsible behavior’ by conducting an anti-satellite weapons test that created a field of 1,500 pieces of debris endangering the crew of the International Space Station.
Tensions between the United States and Russia have escalated in recent days as Moscow is being blamed for fueling a migrant crisis on the Belarus-Poland border.
Biden administration officials have also grown alarmed at the massing of Russian military forces near the Ukrainian frontier – prompting officials in Kiev to warn that the Kremlin seeks to ‘shatter Europe.’
The State Department confirmed that the debris was from an old Russian satellite destroyed in Monday’s anti-satellite weapons test.
‘It was dangerous. It was reckless. It was irresponsible,’ said State Department spokesman Ned Price.
Pentagon spokesman John Kirby also briefed reporters, in a sign of the incident’s strategic significance, and stressed that Russia did not give Washington advance warning of the missile.
‘We watch closely the kinds of capabilities that Russia has seemed to want to develop, which could pose a threat not just to our national security interests, but the security incentives of other spacefaring nations,’ he said.
‘We’ve been very clear, we would like to see norms for space so that it can be used responsibly by all spacefaring nations.’
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The US is investigating a ‘debris-generating event in space’ after astronauts on the International Space Station were forced to prepare for a possible evacuation
Russian space agency Roscomos confirmed something had happened, but it downplayed the incident
Earlier Monday, the four Americans, one German and two Russians on board were forced to seek shelter in their docked capsules because of the debris.
At least 1,500 pieces of the destroyed satellite were sizable enough to show up on radar, Price said.
But countless other fragments were too small to track, yet still posed a danger to the space station as well as orbiting satellites.
‘We are going to continue to make very clear that we won’t tolerate this kind of activity,’ Price said.
The cloud of debris seemed to pose a threat on each passing orbit – or every 1 1/2 hours.
German astronaut Matthias Maurer was told to move his sleeping bag from the European lab to a safer location for the night.
Until Monday, some 20,000 pieces of space junk were being tracked, including old and broken satellites.
Last week, a fragment from an old Chinese satellite – the target of a missile-strike test in 2007 – threatened to come uncomfortably close.
While it later was dismissed as a risk, NASA had the space station move anyway.
NASA Mission Control said the heightened threat might continue for another couple days and continue to interrupt the astronauts’ science research and other work. Four of the seven crew members arrived at the orbiting outpost Thursday night.
American officials believe Russia carried out an anti-satellite weapon (ASAT) test – a rare show-of-force demonstrations criticized by the space community because of the risk they create for crews in low Earth orbit.
‘US Space Command is aware of a debris-generating event in outer space. We are actively working to characterize the debris field and will continue to ensure all space-faring nations have the information necessary to maneuver satellites if impacted,’ the agency said.
‘We are also in the process of working with… the State Department and NASA, concerning these reports and will provide an update in the near future.’
The space junk passes started in the early hours on Monday, with the ISS making close passes every 90 minutes or so, Space.com added.
At this time, the ISS appears to be functioning normally and all seven astronauts onboard the floating space laboratory are safe.
DailyMail.com has reached out to NASA and Space Command with a request for comment on the incident.
Russian space agency Roscomos confirmed something had happened, but it downplayed the incident.
‘The orbit of the object, which forced the crew today to move into spacecraft according to standard procedures, has moved away from the ISS orbit. The station is in the green zone,’ the agency tweeted.
‘Friends, everything is regular with us! We continue to work according to the program,’ tweeted Anton Shkaplerov, the current commander of the outpost.
The ISS appears to be functioning normally and all seven astronauts on board, including the four who headed to space last week, are safe.
‘Friends, everything is regular with us! We continue to work according to the program,’ tweeted Anton Shkaplerov, the current commander of the outpost
The ISS appears to be functioning normally and all seven astronauts onboard the floating space laboratory are safe
LeoLabs, Inc. tweeted a graph which showed ’30 unique objects’ detected near the expected location of Cosmos 1408. ‘The objects currently span a distance range of ~40km as viewed from our radar sites,’ according to the site
NASA astronaut Mark Vande Hei thanked NASA’s mission control at Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas for the ‘situational awareness’ they gave the astronauts during a check-in marking the end of the astronauts’ day at about 12 p.m. EST (1700 GMT), according to Space.com.
‘It was certainly a great way to bond as a crew, starting off our very first workday in space,’ Vande Hei added.
The tests have been criticized by the Biden Administration and the space community because of the risk they create for crews in low Earth orbit
It came amid unconfirmed reports President Vladimir Putin and Russia performed an anti-satellite weapon test
We’re looking forward to a calmer day tomorrow.’
Earlier, NASA astronauts Raja Chari, Tom Marshburn, Kayla Barron, and European Space Agency astronaut Matthias Maurer floated into their SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft for safety, according to a report by Spaceflight now.
At the same time, Russian cosmonauts Shkaplerov, Pyotr Dubrov, and Vande Hei boarded a Soyuz spacecraft on the Russian segment, the outlet added.
Both spacecraft can be used as lifeboats to bring crew back to Earth in an emergency.
US space industry analyst Serata tweeted the debris might have been caused by a missile test.
‘ASAT missile strike now suspected. Seradata SpaceTrak database orbital data had Cosmos 1408 (an old Soviet satellite) in a 487 x 461 km orbit — a bit higher than ISS but not much,’ the company tweeted.
‘The ASAT strike on Cosmos 1408 would cause some debris to be fired below it…threatening ISS with a crossing debris cloud.’
LeoLabs, Inc. tweeted a graph which showed ’30 unique objects’ detected near the expected location of Cosmos 1408.
‘The objects currently span a distance range of ~40km as viewed from our radar sites,’ according to the site.
Raja Chari, Tom Marshburn, Kayla Barron, and ESA astronaut Matthias Maurer headed towards the floating space lab last week aboard a SpaceX rocket.
The incident in space took place against the backdrop of heightened geopolitical tensions back on Earth.
Russia is being accused of fomenting tension between its ally, Belarus, and the European Union.
Thousands of migrants from the Middle East and Asia have gathered along the Belarus-Poland frontier.
The Polish government and European authorities have accused Belarus of transporting the migrants to the border region.
On Monday, hundreds of migrants broke through a Belarusian border fence with Polish guards rushing to stop them.
Videos taken near the Kuznica border crossing point on Monday showed hundreds of people – the majority of whom appeared to be young men – pushing their way through a broken fence towards a smaller barbed wire barricade where Polish border police in riot uniforms confronted them.
Polish border guard spokesman Anna Michalska said she is ‘expecting an attempt at forceful crossing of the border’ which she said is being carried out under the direction of Belarusian border guards.
More footage showed a Polish helicopter hovering overhead as dozens of soldiers joined police in keeping the migrants back.
EU foreign ministers met in Brussels to sanction dictator Alexander Lukashenko’s regime over the crisis.
Migrants could be seen using makeshift ladders to try to scale the barbed wire fencing that separates Belarus from the EU.
A spokesman for Polish Border Guard told MailOnline: ‘Last night a group of 60 migrants tried to force their way across the border between Poland and Belarus. The attempt was foiled.
Ukraine has accused Putin of being engaged in a master-plot to ‘shatter’ Europe using a troop-build up on Russia’s border and the Belarus migrant crisis to shake European alliances
Meanwhile Pro-Kremlin TV channels accused NATO of being ‘super-aggressive’ in the Black Sea where the military tensions are almost at ‘boiling point’. Pictured: Russian Black Sea fleet and Russian Air Force escort US Navy ship in the Black Sea
‘And this morning a huge group of migrants gathered at the main border crossing as they attempted to storm across the frontier into Poland.
The spokesman added: ‘Illegal immigrants have been gathering at the border crossing in Kuźnica on the Belarusian side since morning.
‘They are joined by new groups that have so far camped at the border, and an attempt is being made to force the border through, all under the supervision of Belarusian services.’
The EU accuses Lukashenko of luring migrants to his country on false promises of passage into Europe, before pushing them to the border and forcing them to make illegal crossings.
Monday’s sanctions targeted airlines, travel agencies and individuals accused of helping ferry migrants into Belarus.
Josep Borrell, the EU’s foreign policy chief, said after the meeting: ‘Today’s decision reflects the determination by the EU to stand up to the instrumentalization of migrants for political purposes. We are pushing back on this inhuman and illegal practice.’
Lukashenko denies being responsible for the crisis, and vowed a ‘strong response’ to EU measures today. ‘We will defend ourselves’, he told a meeting of high-ranking officials, adding: ‘That’s it. We have nowhere to retreat.’
Meanwhile, Ukraine’s government has sounded the alarm as Western officials expressed worry over a military buildup of Russian forces near the country’s borders.
Dmytro Kuleba, Ukraine’s foreign minister, warned that the Belarus-Poland border crisis and the military buildup are not separate but part of a single Kremlin strategy to weaken and fracture alliances which bind Europe together and counter-balance Putin’s power.
Speaking after meetings in Brussels with NATO chief Jens Stoltenburg and EU foreign ministers, Mr Kubela said: ‘When we see migrants used as a weapon, when we see disinformation used as a weapon, when we see gas used as a weapon, and soldiers and their guns … these are not separate elements.’
Hundreds of migrants have broken through the Belarusian border fence close to the Kuznica crossing with Poland, before rushing towards Polish barbed wire barricades
Polish border police and soldiers have rushed to stop the migrants from crossing, in just the latest flashpoint amidst a migration crisis that Belarus is accused of manufacturing
A child weeps in the arms of a migrantat the Bruzgi-Kuznica Bialostocka border crossing as they attempt to cross in to Poland
Videos taken at the border showed most of those rushing across to be young men, though some women and children were pictured amidst the crowds
An overhead picture shows hundreds of migrants at the Belarusian-Polish border near the Polish Kuznica crossing today
Mr Stoltenburg added that NATO stands firmly behind Ukraine and warned Russia against any ‘aggressive actions’ after an ‘unusual concentration’ of troops was spotted along the border.
Separately, a pro-Putin TV news show said tensions in the Black Sea are at ‘boiling point’ after two US warships – command vessel USS Mount Whitney and destroyer USS Porter – sailed into the Black Sea for a 10-day deployment.
Dmitry Kiselyov – dubbed Putin’s ‘mouthpiece’ and ‘propagandist-in-chief’ – said the ships were ‘clearly trying to feel out the weak points in our defense’ and that NATO is ‘acting more aggressively than ever’.
The Whitney and Porter, part of the US Navy’s 6th Fleet, both left the Black Sea today en route back to the Mediterranean, according to posts on their Twitter accounts.
Ukraine says 100,000 Russian troops are now stationed along the border along with satellite and radio equipment that would be used to coordinate an attack.
That prompted the US to warn its European allies last week that an invasion of eastern Ukraine – where Russian-backed separatists have been fighting a years-long insurgency – could be imminent.
Poland has vowed to defend the EU’s eastern border against what the bloc calls a ‘hybrid attack’ from Belarus, thought to be in revenge for sanctions against the country levied earlier this year
There are thought to be around 4,000 migrants at the border currently, with EU leaders saying they were lured to Belarus on the false promise of passage into Europe and then pushed to the border and forced to make illegal crossings
Migrants, most of whom appeared to be young men, rest on their bags as they sit down in the road in front of Polish riot police and soldiers at the Kuznica crossing today
Poland has vowed to hold the migrants back, accusing Belarus of waging war using vulnerable people while pledging not to give in to blackmail
A military helicopter circles overhead as hundreds of vulnerable migrants gather at the Polish border today, having broken through from the Belarusian side
While Washington was not able to specify a threat, intelligence chiefs said the invasion would likely be aimed at seizing territory as Putin did in 2014 with the annexation of Crimea.
NATO will stand by Ukraine in face of Russian troop build-up on border, chief says
NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg warned Russia on Monday that the western military alliance was standing by Ukraine amid a large and unusual concentration of Russian troops on Ukraine’s borders.
Stressing that the important thing now was to prevent situations from spiralling out of control, Stoltenberg urged Russia to be transparent about military activities, to reduce tensions and prevent an escalation.
‘We have to be clear-eyed, we need to be realistic about the challenges we face. And what we see is a significant, large Russian military build-up,’ Stoltenberg told a news conference with Ukraine’s Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba in Brussels.
He said he did not want to speculate about Russia’s intentions but added: ‘We see an unusual concentration of troops, and we know that Russia has been willing to use these types of military capabilities before to conduct aggressive actions against Ukraine.’
The Russian troop movements have over the past days spurred fears of a possible attack. Moscow has dismissed such suggestions as inflammatory and complained about increasing activity in the region by the NATO transatlantic alliance.
Meanwhile Pro-Kremlin TV channels accused NATO of being ‘super-aggressive’ in the Black Sea where warships have eyed each other at close distances while military aircraft have played cat and dog in the skies.
One top state TV presenter warned that a ‘confident and clod-blooded’ Vladimir Putin was ‘ready to simply destroy’ in the event of a ‘brazen violation’ of its borders, which Moscow sees as including annexed Crimea.
The Russian blast over the presence of US battleships and NATO – including British – spy planes comes amid huge tension in the separate hot spot on the Belarus-Poland border where a rising number of migrants are seeking to force their way into the EU.
Vesti Nedeli current affairs TV host Dmitry Kiselyov – dubbed Putin’s ‘mouthpiece’ and ‘propagandist-in-chief’ – claimed NATO aircraft and ships, including the USS Mount Whitney and USS Porter, were ‘clearly trying to feel out the weak points in our defence’.
The alliance was ‘acting more aggressively than ever’, and demonstrating a ‘resolve to engage in some nastiness’.
The show on Rossiya 1 also accused the West of ‘inciting’ Ukraine to war with Russia.
Kubela, speaking to Politico on Monday, echoed those thoughts as he said: ‘What we see along our border is a sophisticated military infrastructure rolled out during the spring escalation, that is ready to be used for offensive operations.
‘I cannot speculate on the exact scale of those operations, but back in 2014 it was unimaginable that Crimea would be seized by Russia — therefore I cannot exclude any scenario at this point.’
Mr Stoltenberg added: ‘Any further provocation or aggressive actions by Russia would be of serious concern. We call on Russia to be transparent about its military activities.’
Britain also stressed its unwavering support for Ukraine’s territorial integrity and said it will back it in the face of Russian hostility.
Downing Street also blasted Belarus for what it called an ‘abhorrent’ attempt to use migrants as a weapon against Poland and said it stood in full solidarity with EU sanctions against the Lukashenko regime.
UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s spokesman, when asked about the buildup of Russian troops on Ukraine’s borders, said: ‘We are seeing a concerning situation at that border.
‘We remain in unwavering support for Ukraine’s territorial integrity and will continue to support them in the face of Russian hostility.’
Russia annexed Crimea from Ukraine in 2014 and says the waters around it belong to Moscow now, despite most countries continuing to recognize the peninsula as Ukrainian.
Russian-backed separatists took control of Ukraine’s eastern Donbass region that same year and soldiers on both sides continue to be regularly killed in the conflict there.
The troop border build-up – which Ukraine last week estimated at 100,000 – was dangerous, said Stoltenberg, because it reduced the amount of warning time, should Russia decide to ‘conduct a military aggressive action against Ukraine.’
‘This is partly forces close to the border between Russia and Ukraine, but it is also partly troops and capabilities which are inside Ukraine, meaning they are in Crimea, which is illegally annexed, and also we see the militants, the separatists in Donbass, which is also part of Ukraine, supported and helped by Russia,’ he said.
A NATO source, asked to describe how Russia is going about deploying its military equipment towards Ukraine, said: ‘Large equipment such as tanks, self-propelled artillery and infantry fighting vehicles is moved at night to avoid tell-tale pictures showing up on social media as they did during the Russian military build-up in spring.’
‘It can go either way,’ Lithuania’s foreign minister Gabrielius Landsbergis told reporters, also on Monday, on the margins of a meeting with his European Union counterparts.
The West cannot exclude a Russian attack on Ukraine while international attention is focused on the Belarus migration crisis, or that Russia establishes a permanent military presence in Belarus, he said.
‘I would not exclude that as a possibility,’ he said.
Meanwhile, the US has been voicing increasing concern to allies over the recent Russian troop movements at the frontier with Ukraine.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken said last week it would be a ‘serious mistake for Russia to engage in a repeat of what it did in 2014’, when it seized Crimea from Kiev.
And on Monday, Germany’s foreign ministry urged Moscow to exercise ‘restraint’ at the Ukrainian border.
Russia sparked major alarm at NATO back in spring that it could be looking to intervene in Ukraine with a huge build-up of troops at the border.