US says Russia launched antisatellite weapon into space; Moscow shrugs off ‘fake news’

A top Russian official on Wednesday denied U.S. claims that Moscow had launched a weapon into low-Earth orbit that could potentially attack other satellites, calling it “fake news.”

Pentagon press secretary Maj. Gen. Pat Ryder said a day earlier that last week the Kremlin launched a satellite assessed as “likely a counter-space weapon presumably capable of attacking other satellites in low Earth orbit.”

Ryder said the new counterspace weapon was on “the same orbit as a U.S. government satellite,” adding that Washington would continue to monitor the situation.

Asked whether the Kremlin weapon currently poses a threat to the U.S. government satellite, he replied: “Yes.”

U.S. Space Command also said Tuesday the Russian launch took place May 16 from the country’s Plesetsk launch site, about some 500 miles north of Moscow. The command added that the rocket deployed at least nine satellites including a type of military “inspector” spacecraft.

Russia’s Ministry of Defense acknowledged a launch had taken place and included a spacecraft but did not offer further details.

“I don’t think we should respond to any fake news from Washington,” Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov, the country’s top arms control diplomat, told the state-run Interfax news agency, as reported by Reuters.

“The Americans can say whatever they want, but our policy does not change from this,” added Ryabkov, noting that Moscow had “always consistently opposed the deployment of strike weapons in low-Earth orbit.”

The denial follows similar Russian assertions in February, when the U.S. claimed Moscow was developing a space-based, antisatellite nuclear weapon to destroy Western satellites. Russian President Vladimir Putin and then-Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu both denied the claim.

U.S. intelligence revealed the possibility of such a space weapon after House Intelligence Committee Chair Mike Turner (R-Ohio) cryptically announced that Congress had information on a “serious national security threat.”

Under the United Nations Security Council, an agreement known as the 1967 Outer Space Treaty aims to prevent the deployment of nuclear weapons in outer space. But last month Russia vetoed a resolution that called to reaffirm a commitment to the treaty.

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