Russian Audit Committee Finds Mind Boggling Financial Violations at Roscosmos

Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin. (Credit: A. Savin)
Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin. (Credit: A. Savin)

More bad news for Russia’s struggling space program:

Russia’s Audit Chamber has discovered $1.8 billion of financial violations in the Roscosmos space agency. According to Chamber head Tatyana Golikova, this included accounting violations, misuse of budget funds and inefficient spending on construction.

“At first I didn’t believe the inspectors,” Golikova said, Interfax reported.

The Audit Chamber has observed a sharp rise in violations at Roscosmos since last year, she said. “It was an absolute surprise for me. I conducted a budget inspection last year, and now in 2014, the number of violations has grown sharply.”

Earlier, Russia’s Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin blamed corruption in the space industry for the recent high accident rate of Russian spacecraft. Speaking in the State Duma on Tuesday, he said Roscosmos’ partner, the state company producing Proton rockets, is facing eight criminal cases.

One of the projects apparently seething with violations is the new Vostochny (Eastern) Cosmodrome. According to Golikova, its construction saw an overspending of about 13 billion rubles ($260 million). She says this resulted from overpricing and use of fraud schemes. The numbers are being looked into by the Russian Investigative Committee.

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Putin, Skolkovo and the Fate of Russia’s Space Program

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I recent found a couple of interesting analytical pieces about the state of Russia’s struggling high tech sector and space program. Together, they paint a rather dismal picture of the prospects that Russia will be able to revive its once-proud space effort and break free of its economic reliance upon oil, gas, minerals and heavy metals.

In “The Short Life and Speedy Death of Russia’s Silicon Valley,” James Appell looks at the declining fortunes of Skolkovo, the Russian government’s $4 billion incubator outside Moscow that was designed to be the nation’s answer to America’s famous tech center. Then-President Dmitry Medvedev launched the ambitious effort in 2009 after visiting California as a way to diversify the Russian economy.

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Russia Roundup: Vostochny, Consolidation & Lunar Base

Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin. (Credit: A. Savin)
Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin. (Credit: A. Savin)

As another Russian space mission went haywire this week, there was plenty of other news about that nation’s struggle space program. Here’s a summary of major news from the past week.

VOSTOCHNY

  • Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin said that 58 million rubles (about $1 million) in back wages owed to Vostochny workers will be paid by April 30. Unhappy workers have gone on hunger strikes and appealed to President Vladimir Putin with a message written on the roofs of their dorms.

INDUSTRY CONSOLIDATION

  • Efforts to consolidate the Russian space industry under Roscomos continued. Putin submitted a draft law to the State Duma that would establish a space corporation on the basis of Roscosmos and the United Rocket and Space Corporation.

LONG RANGE PLANS

  • In a meeting with Chinese officials, Rogozin proposed that the two countries work together on a permanently crewed base on the moon. Russian is aiming to establish a lunar facility around 2030.

Vostochny Project Becoming Increasingly Farcical

Russian President Vladimir Putin looks over plans for Vostochny. (Credit: Roscosmos)
Russian President Vladimir Putin looks over plans for Vostochny. (Credit: Roscosmos)

Russia’s multi-billion dollar Vostochny spaceport project has now gone from absurd to farcical.

On the heels of a hunger strike by unpaid workers comes word of another group of more than 500 people who say they haven’t been paid for four months.

The workers have sent a personal appeal to Russian President Vladimir Putin. In very large letters. On the roofs of their workers barracks.

No, I’m not kidding. This comes directly from the you can’t make s— like this up file. Click the link and take a look at the photos.

I think they sent the appeal to the right place. Putin presides over a mafia state where theft and corruption runs rampant. He and his cronies have greatly benefited from it. But, when he actually needs to get something done, his ambitions are hamstrung by the very system he has put into place.

This latest embarrassment will undoubtedly be followed by more firings of those responsible by Putin’s military industrial complex czar, Dmitry Rogozin, who has direct control over the Vostochny project. The question is whether or not Rogozin should be fired for presiding over this sorry mess.

Vostochny Workers Go on Hunger Strike Over Back Wages

Vladimir Putin reviews a map showing the plan for the Vostochny spaceport. (Credit: Presidential Press and Information Office)
Vladimir Putin reviews a map showing the plan for the Vostochny spaceport. (Credit: Presidential Press and Information Office)

Pity the poor workers at Vostochny.

They’re out there in the Russian Far East, in the middle of nowhere, trying to construct a massive new spaceport and an entire city to support it. There’s not enough people to do the work, the winter weather is horrible, and their employers have allegedly embezzled money while falling months behind on wage payments.

Meanwhile, President Vladimir Putin has decreed the first launch will take place from the new spaceport in December no matter. Deputy Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin — a great admirer of Josef Stalin — monitors the work via webcam in between regular visits. He recently threatened the rip the heads off anyone who steals funds or slows the project down.

Pressure? Oh, no pressure. What makes you say that?

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Rogozin Fires Another Vostochny Construction Head

Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin was back at the Vostochny spaceport last week to see how well his latest motivational tactic was working. Apparently, not very well.

A week and a half prior to his latest inspection tour, Rogozin had promised to rip the heads off anybody who was slowing down work on the cosmodrome. President Vladimir Putin had decreed the new spaceport will be ready for its first launch in December.

That approach apparently didn’t have the desired effect. During his visit last Tuesday, Rogozin fired Dmitry Savin, head of the main contractor, Dalspetsstroi. He reportedly left with his head intact and will continue to work for Dalspetsstroi.

This was the second firing of a Dalspetsstroi head in less than six months. Savin’s predecessor, Yury Khrizman, was arrested last October for allegedly embezzling 1.8 billion rubles ($30 million).

Lucky Russian Students Spend Winter in Balmy Vostochny

Vladimir Putin reviews a map showing the plan for the Vostochny spaceport. (Credit: Presidential Press and Information Office)
Vladimir Putin reviews a map showing the plan for the Vostochny spaceport. (Credit: Presidential Press and Information Office)

RussianSpaceWeb.com says 200 lucky students had a chance to spend their winter break in Russia’s frigid Far East, where they are taking a course in Screwed Up Construction Projects 101.

In an unusual step, the Russian government organized 200-strong “winter student brigade” to provide low-skilled labor in Vostochny beginning on February 1, even though normally such groups would only be available during summer. Official press releases did not elaborate whether members of the brigade would have to skip a semester. As many as 1,200 students were promised in Vostochny during the summer of 2015, Roskosmos said.

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Russia Severing Ties With Ukraine on Dnepr, Zenit Launch Programs

Dnepr launch vehicle. (Credit: ISC Kosmotras)
Dnepr launch vehicle. (Credit: ISC Kosmotras)

Roscosmos officials made announcements this week that they would be suspending a joint program with Ukraine to launch Dnepr rockets and were no longer interested in buying Ukrainian Zenit boosters, deepening problems for that embattled nation’s space program and its struggling Yuzhmash factory.

Dneprs are converted SS-18 ballistic missiles that are converted into satellite launchers by Ukraine’s Yuzhmash launch vehicle manufacturer. The boosters are launched by the Moscow-based Moscow-based Kosmotras International Space Company, which is Russian-Ukrainian joint venture.

Russian media report three Dnepr launches scheduled this year will be carried out. However, The Moscow Times reports the future of the venture remains cloudy. It is possible the program will end, or Russia will convert the missiles to satellite launchers without Ukrainian participation.

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Is Russian Space Industry Consolidation Creating a Black Hole?

Russian President Vladimir Putin looks over plans for Vostochny. (Credit: Roscosmos)
Russian President Vladimir Putin looks over plans for Vostochny. (Credit: Roscosmos)

A couple of stories in The Moscow Times provide some insight into the re-nationalization of Russia’s space industry.  One story claims the changes will create a giant black hole that will suck in billions of rubles while producing little of value. The other spotlights the firing of a prominent space analyst who dared oppose the changes.

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Rogozin Looks to Put Vostochny Back on Schedule as Russia Mulls BRICS Space Station

Russia’s Josef Stalin-worshiping Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin paid another one of his periodic visits to Vostochny this week, where he did not like what he found.

“My view after the examination of cosmodrome facilities and talks with representatives of Roscosmos and Spetsstroi (state construction company) is the following: the state of affairs at ‘minimum launch’ facilities leaves much to be desired. The builders for the present are behind the schedule,” Rogozin told a meeting of the commission for control over the country’s most important construction site.

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Roscosmos Merged With United Rocket & Space Corporation

Dmitry Medvedev meets with Igor Komarov. (Credit: Government of Russian Federation)
Dmitry Medvedev meets with Igor Komarov. (Credit: Government of Russian Federation)

The  Russian space agency Roscosmos is being merged with the United Rocket and Space Corporation, the government-owned company that is consolidating all of the nation’s space assets under its control. Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin Tweeted:

The Government expects Roscosmos to put forward a draft law on creating a state corporation in the coming days http://t.co/U0RHdqg6Yg Putin supported Medvedev’s proposal to create a state corporation on the basis of Roscosmos and United Rocket and Space Corporation

He is, of course, referring to President Vladimir Putin and Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev.

The Russian government has Tweeted a picture of Medvedev meeting with URSC Director General Igor Komarov, who is apparently now the head of Roscosmos. That means Oleg Ostapenko is out as Roscosmos chief.

The appears appears to be modeled on the Rosatom State Nuclear Energy Corporation, which consolidated Russia’s nuclear industry. It’s an interesting move given that the United States and Europe are looking to the private sector to be innovative and carry more of the burden in space.

Year in Review: Launch Industry Disrupted in 2014

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SpaceX Founder Elon Musk has long talked about disrupting the launch industry with low prices and technological innovations. In 2014, the impacts of those efforts were felt far and wide as competitors responded to the threat the California company posed to their livelihoods.

ULA Pivots. With SpaceX reeling off one successful launch after another, ULA pivoted on several fronts. One was to announce efforts to significantly reduce costs on its highly reliable but pricey Atlas V and Delta IV boosters. But, even that proved to be insufficient as SpaceX threatened ULA on several fronts.

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Will Sea Launch End Up in Brazil?

sea_launch_zenitRussia’s efforts to find a new home for its failure-prone Sea Launch company has taken officials to rising South American power — and charter BRICS member — Brazil.

That’s the word from Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin anyway.

“A quite remarkable dialogue at the level of experts is currently in progress; possibly, the idea may take shape within the BRICS group, or in our bilateral relations with Brazil, of carrying out such joint launches and furnishing assistance to Brazil in developing its space industry and making its own spacecraft,” he said, adding that Brazil already had its own space site close to the ocean that would fit in well with such tasks.
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Putin Takes Direct Control of Russian Military Industrial Complex

Vladimir Putin inspects construction at Vostochny. (Credit:  Presidential Press and Information Office)
Vladimir Putin inspects construction at Vostochny. (Credit: Presidential Press and Information Office)

Russian Leader-for-Life Vladimir Putin has tightened his already tight control over Russia’s military industrial complex, taking personal control of the commission responsible for carrying 0ut Russia’s defense orders and demoting Dmitry “Trampoline Rocket” Rogozin in the process.

The Moscow Times reports that Putin warned of burgeoning security threats facing Russia as he took personal control of the Military-Industrial Commission. Under Rogozin, the commission has been unable to break a cycle of “widespread corruption, inefficiency and incompetence” that have made it difficult for contractors to deliver as promised.

“I hope the commission’s new status [under the presidential administration] and its broad powers will allow it to better coordinate the interaction between the Defense Ministry and other departments and enterprises of the military-industrial complex,” Putin said Wednesday.

Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin, the commission’s previous chief, has been dumped down to the position of deputy following the reshuffle.

The new arrangement “will increase the efficiency of state policy in the military-industrial sphere and the … security of the country,” Putin said during a meeting of the commission, according to a transcript on the Kremlin’s website.

Rogozin’s role had been to oversee the defense and space sectors. Despite his demotion, he will continue to have a major role in the space industry, which is being consolidated under a single government-run corporation. Last week, Putin gave him the responsibility for overseeing the completion of the new Vostochny spaceport, which had been managed by Roscosmos.

Putin’s move was made amid a major effort to modernize Russia’s military forces and capabilities. Russia also wants to reduce its dependence on foreign suppliers at a time when it’s facing sanctions over its annexation of Crimea and hostile actions in eastern Ukraine.

Report: Russia Won’t Meet 2018 Launch Date From Vostochny

OKA-T spacecraft (Credit: RSC Energia)
OKA-T spacecraft (Credit: RSC Energia)

A Russian plan to launch cosmonauts into orbit from the new Vostochny spaceport in 2018 appears to have been abandoned, but officials have come up with a way to sort of meet that deadline.

‘RussianSpaceWeb.com reports the current plan is to launch a human-tended microgravity laboratory called Oka-T into space in 2018. The free-flying laboratory will conduct material sciences experiments and would be periodically serviced by cosmonauts aboard the International Space Station.

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