It’s official: Dmitry Rogozin has been ousted from his cushy position as head of the Russian space agency Roscosmos, effective immediately. But now that the Kremlin has ‘dismissed’ Rogozin as CEO of Roscosmos — what happens next? And what do we know about Rogozin’s successor?
The news of Rogozin’s departure comes directly from the Kremlin. In a press release, ardent nationalist and longtime Putin ally Dmitry Rogozin was “dismissed from the post of General Director of the State Corporation ‘Roscosmos’,” by presidential decree. Russia’s deputy prime minister of space and defense, Yury Borisov, will take Rogozin’s place.
Meet the New Boss, Same as the Old Boss
Borisov found his way to Roscosmos along the same path as Rogozin. Both men served as Deputy Prime Minister, overseeing the entire Russian military-industrial complex, before they landed at Roscosmos. And as with Rogozin, in Putin’s Russia, this is a demotion. It’s tough to find an equivalent for American politics. It’s like going from ‘head of your entire country’s aerospace and defense industry as a whole’ to having NASA administrator Bill Nelson’s job. With all due respect to Mr. Nelson, he simply doesn’t draw the salary Rogozin receives.
In fact, Russian political activist Alexei Navalny compared Rogozin to Nelson — unfavorably — in a scathing video critique of the grift and corruption endemic to Roscosmos.
“We have nothing against large salaries,” Navalny says in the video. “But why is it so insanely large? Is there really that much excess money in our budget? How can you demand transparency from the people at lower levels when at the very top the numbers in public access documents simply do not match?”
“Dear Mr. Putin, let me do one very simple thing for you,” Navalny adds. “Since you started talking about transparency, and since you keep demanding it, I’ll point my finger at the very top, very close to you, Mr. President. Who’s in charge of it? Roscosmos. And who’s in charge of Roscosmos? The person you appointed, Dmitry Rogozin.”
It may or may not shock you to discover that Navalny is now in a gulag.
Corruption Runs Deep at Roscosmos
When Rogozin took over the post of deputy prime minister in 2011, Putin tasked him with overhauling Russia’s military-industrial complex. Roscosmos, the state space agency, was in crisis. Just before Rogozin got his seat in the government, the head of Russia’s state construction agency got his pink slip (and prison time) for embezzling outrageous sums of money from Putin’s pet spaceport, the Vostochny cosmodrome.
In a desperate 2015 attempt at reform, Russia dissolved its space agency and resurrected it as Roscosmos, the state space corporation. Then in 2018, Putin appointed Rogozin as head of Roscosmos. Rogozin’s mission? Take over construction at Vostochny, and “drain the swamp.”
Instead, Rogozin spends his time griefing civilians on Twitter like it’s his day job. Which it technically is. At least, he’s definitely getting paid to do it. Rogozin, a longtime Putin loyalist, has spent a decade performing for an audience of one. Now he’s driving a Benz that the People bought him. Meanwhile, the concrete at Vostochny is still in disrepair.
Birds of a Feather Flock Together — Until the Cat Comes
Rogozin evidently got “rightsized” out of Roscosmos because of poor performance. This is what happens when a yes man gets a high-level job. Putin went very public with his fury over corruption at Vostochny. The reasons for Borisov’s demotion from the position of deputy prime minister are similarly clear. In the wake of his disastrous Ukraine invasion, Putin is clearing house. Like Rogozin, Borisov failed to perform, instead enriching himself at the people’s expense. According to the Moscow Times, “Borisov vacates his post amid the failure of the state rearmament program, which affected the course of the war in Ukraine. Under him, the Russian defense industry received 2 trillion rubles annually, but the Russian army entered Ukraine on old equipment, with paper maps, and in three months it had practically exhausted its stock of precision-guided missiles.”
Russian-language sources are deeply divided on whether or not the bombastic ex-space chief is still in Putin’s good graces. Just this week, a report surfaced that things between Putin and Rogozin are all skittles and beer. The independent Russian news agency Meduza quotes anonymous ‘sources close to the Kremlin’ — naturally, anonymously — claiming that Rogozin is definitely still “in Putin’s favor.”
“The president likes him — and has for a long time,” according to Meduza’s source.
However, Ars Technica reports that under Rogozin’s supervision, the reliability and launch rate of Russian space vehicles has actually declined. According to the Moscow Times, in 2020, “Roskosmos did not fulfill about a third of the goals of the state space program – 30 out of 83. In the construction of cosmodromes – the area from which Rogozin began in his new position – out of 26 activities, the company completed only six.”
Where is Rogozin Going? We’ll Find Out “In Due Time”
Dmitry Rogozin’s escalating war of words with the Western world has mostly resulted in a lot of stress, although he’s done a great job alienating Russia from the world’s collective endeavors in spaceflight. After Russia invaded Ukraine this spring, much of the western world levied economic sanctions against Russia. Tit for tat, Rogozin announced that Russia would no longer allow America access to the Soyuz rockets we use to get astronauts to and from the International Space Station. He also withdrew access to Russia’s Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, from which Soyuz rockets launch.
However, a few hours after the Kremlin publicized Rogozin’s dismissal from head of the Russian space program, NASA released a statement affirming that American astronaut Frank Rubio would fly to the ISS with two Russian cosmonauts on a Soyuz rocket. The crew is scheduled to take off from Baikonur in September. Another American astronaut, Loral O’Hara, will fly later, with a separate Soyuz mission. In addition, Russian cosmonauts Anna Kikina and Andrei Fedyaev will fly separate missions to the ISS aboard a Crew Dragon.
Meanwhile, Rogozin himself may be headed for eastern Ukraine. Per the Moscow Times, Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov told state news agency TASS this morning that Rogozin, 58, would get a new job “in due time.”
Peskov’s comment may be a veiled reference to the Kremlin’s ongoing attempt to annex Ukraine. This fall, the illegitimate, Russian-occupied “people’s republics” of Donetsk and Luhansk in eastern Ukraine intend 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 do decide to secede from Ukraine and rejoin Russia, Meduza’s sources predict that Rogozin will become curator of the precarious new federal district.
Image from the Russian Presidential Press and Information Office