Can Popovich Hang onto Job After Alleged Fight Over Model?
By Douglas Messier
Parabolic Arc Managing Editor
The curious case of Roscosmos head Vladimir Popovkin — hospitalized recently after suffering a head injury — has taken another strange turn, this one involving an alleged brawl over a sultry model turned personal press secretary.
As you might recall, Roscosmos said Popovkin was hospitalized last week for “physical and emotional exhaustion” as a result of a brutal schedule that included frequent international travel on behalf of the struggling Russian space program he was brought in to save last April. But, that story didn’t hold for very long.
A Russian tabloid of questionable reliability named Life News quickly posted a picture of Popovkin with his head bandaged and reported that he was drunk at the time he was admitted to the hospital.
Roscosmos subsequently elaborated upon the story, saying that the Roscosmos leader was so exhausted from trying to rescue the accident-prone space agency that he fell on a flight stairs and hit his head on its marble railing. Now it seems that wasn’t exactly true, either.
Popovkin did indeed hit his head, but it wasn’t on a marble railing. Reportedly, a man smashed a bottle over the head of the Russian space chief after the two men got into a fight over a woman at a party. The woman in question? Popovkin’s personal press secretary, Anna Vedischeva, a 27-year-old former model he hired last year despite her complete lack of knowledge of the Russian space program and zero experience in public relations.
And, to add a touch of irony to the whole situation, the incident supposedly took place during a party on March 8 to mark…wait for it….International Women’s Day.
Popovkin took over the struggling space agency last April after an embarrassing series of rocket failures that have continued during his tenure. That string of failures continued under his tenure, the most embarrassing being the loss of Russia’s much touted Phobos-Grunt probe, the nation’s first mission to Mars in 15 years.
The new Roscosmos head appointed Vedischeva to be his personal press secretary last June, a move that resulted in outrage among agency insiders, a sudden jump in web searches for Vedischeva’s sultry modeling photos, and questions about precisely what sort of modeling the woman did, according to The Express:
Popovkin, 53, has chosen not to explain the surprise appointment of his personal press chief. One space official said: “We are shocked. How is she possibly qualified to answer the questions of journalists?” Another said: “Of course she is beautiful and charming but still she’s such a stupid girl when it comes to space.”
The modelling agency’s website, which offers women for “business escorting” services but claims not to be functioning currently, reveals her vital statistics and features a topless glamour pose.
Well, Adriana Lima she is apparently not.
Now, providing the fight story is true, it creates a bit of a dilemma for Russia’s leadership. In many countries, the head of an agency brawling with someone over an unqualified appointee who may have previously provided “business escorting” services would lead to a quick resignation of said agency head over the sheer embarrassment all this would have caused his boss.
Of course, this is Vladimir Putin’s Russia, where corruption, widespread theft, and election rigging are done has a matter of course. What qualifies as a firing offense with a leader who is seemingly above embarrassment? We may find out soon enough. Putin usually acts quickly. Or maybe he’ll have out-going human placeholder, President Dmitry Medvedev, do it.
Whatever the case, one wonders whether Popovkin was already on the way out. His appointment did nothing to stop the string of embarrassing launch failures. After the last one in December, a furious Putin appointed hard-line Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin to clean up Russia’s accident-prone and corruption riddled space and military procurement programs.
Rogozin, a nationalist politician who previously served as Russia’s NATO ambassador, has vowed to use an “iron hand” to fight corruption in the defense industry and to make sure that “every ruble, every kopeck” is used as planned. According to one estimate, 1 in 5 rubles spent in the defense sector is lost to theft and fraud.
Since his appointment, Rogozin took personal control of the investigation into the Phobos-Grunt failure, made various pronouncements about the space program, and has visited Russian space companies, no doubt threatening to bring down his iron hand if failures continue. To get a sense of how that has changed things in the Russian space hierarchy, take a look at a picture of a recent visit by Rogozin to the Federal State Unitary Enterprise Central Research Institute of Machine Building, a.k.a., TsNIIMash.
Rogozin, at the end of the table, is clearly leading the meeting. Popovkin is in a secondary position at left, looking rather grimly at the camera. (Come to think of it, they’re all looking rather grim. The iron hand, perhaps?) The point is, the Roscosmos chief would be making such a working visit by himself and leading the meetings.
Later, it was Rogozin who talked to cosmonauts aboard the International Space Station via a video hookup and gave out awards to various people at TsNIIMash which, judging from the photo below, was a fun time had by all.
Gosh, don’t these guys ever smile? They just got awards. From the deputy prime minister, for God’s sake.
Perhaps Rogozin’s preeminence is simply temporary until Roscosmos stops blowing things up on a regular basis. And Popovkin weathers the current storm and everything gets back to normal.
I guess we’ll soon find out. Either Popovkin emerges from the hospital and resumes his duties. Or he will be summarily fired (or allowed to resign) thereafter. Whatever the case, having a personal press secretary hasn’t really done anything to bring the Roscosmos chief much good press.