US Suggests Russia Can Be Talked Out of Launching New Anti-Satellite System 

washington — Russian plans to launch a new, space-based anti-satellite weapon system that could potentially wreak havoc on Earth are not set in stone, according to U.S. President Joe Biden, who suggested Friday that there was a still a chance to persuade Moscow to change course.

Word of the new Russian threat began spreading Wednesday after a top U.S. lawmaker issued a statement warning of “a serious national security threat,” and demanded Biden declassify the intelligence so the American public, Congress and U.S. allies could better formulate a response.

Suggestions the new Russian system made use of either nuclear power or nuclear weapons then sparked additional concern.

But Biden said such fears were overblown and that the danger was not imminent.

“There is no nuclear threat to the people of America or anywhere else in the world with what Russia is doing at the moment,” Biden told reporters at the White House.

“There is no evidence that they have made a decision to go forward with doing anything in space,” he said.

“We found out there was a capacity to launch a system into space that could theoretically do something that was damaging,” Biden added. “Hadn’t happened yet, and my hope is it will not.”

‘Private engagement’

White House officials on Thursday described the Russian anti-satellite system as a capability that had not yet been deployed, and they pushed back against demands to release additional details.

“The intelligence community has serious concerns about a broad declassification of this intelligence,” said national security communications adviser John Kirby. “They also assess that starting with private engagement, rather than immediately publicizing the intelligence, could be a much more effective approach.

“We’ve reached out to the Russian side, but we have not secured actual conversations at this point,” Kirby added.

A report in Russia’s Tass news agency Friday, citing a Kremlin spokesperson, denied Washington had tried to talk to Russian officials.

Russia on Thursday dismissed the U.S. allegations as a “malicious fabrication,” with Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov accusing Washington of a ruse to get U.S. lawmakers to approve a bigger budget.

U.S. intelligence agencies have been warning for years that Russia and China have been pursuing “a full range of anti-satellite weapons,” noting that the development and use of such systems “could degrade U.S. intelligence-gathering abilities.”

One of the most recent declassified U.S. intelligence assessments warned that Moscow continues to “field new anti-satellite weapons to disrupt and degrade U.S. and allied space capabilities.”

Russia “is developing, testing and fielding an array of nondestructive and destructive counterspace weapons — including jamming and cyberspace capabilities, directed-energy weapons, on-orbit capabilities and ground-based ASAT [anti-satellite] capabilities,” the Office of the Director of National Intelligence wrote in its 2023 Worldwide Threat Assessment report.

Space-based advantages

Some analysts have likewise cautioned that any Russian advanced anti-satellite technology could have far-ranging impacts on the U.S., and U.S. troops in particular.

“Our military gets a lot of advantage from our space-based capabilities — things like GPS that allow us to navigate and conduct precision operations, put bombs exactly on targets very effectively,” said Todd Harrison, a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, who focuses on defense and space policy.

“[If] an adversary can take space away from us and deny us the ability to use those space systems, they would negate one of our biggest advantages,” Harrison told VOA.

But U.S. lawmakers briefed on the intelligence late Thursday voiced confidence in the U.S. approach.

“We all came away with a very strong impression that the administration is taking this very seriously and that the administration has a plan in place,” said House Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Turner, whose statement sparked much of the tumult.

“We look forward to supporting them as they go to implement it,” he added.

VOA’s Patsy Widakuswara, Katherine Gypson and Anita Powell contributed to this report. Some information came from Reuters.