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NASA Calls Off Rogozin Visit After Outcry From U.S. Lawmakers

NASA called off a visit by Dmitry Rogozin, chief of Russia's Roscosmos agency, after an outcry by U.S. lawmakers.

WASHINGTON -- NASA has called off the planned visit of Dimitry Rogozin, the chief of Russia’s space agency who is subject to U.S. and European Union sanctions, following critical press reports and calls by U.S. lawmakers to cancel the visit.

“NASA has informed the Russian space agency, Roscosmos, that [Rogozin’s visit] currently planned for February 2019 will need to be postponed," NASA spokeswoman Megan Powers said in a statement on January 4.

Powers said a new date for a visit to NASA’s headquarters in Houston has “has not been identified." Rogozin had also been scheduled to speak at nearby Rice University.

Roscosmos spokesman Vladimir Ustimenko told Russian state-run TASS news agency early on January 5 that the space agency had not received notification from NASA that the visit had been postponed.

NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine, a former Republican congressman, in October told TASS that he had invited Rogozin to visit the NASA headquarters and that he would seek a waiver to travel a ban against him. The invitation was not widely reported in the United States at the time.

After a story on January 1 in Politico brought the visit to light, U.S. Democratic Senator Jeanne Shaheen on January 2 called on NASA to withdraw the invitation “before Congress is forced to act.”

"Administrator Bridenstine’s invitation to Dmitry Rogozin, one of the leading architects of the Kremlin’s campaign of aggression towards its neighbors, undercuts our message and undermines the United States’ core national security objectives," she said in a statement.

Shaheen, from New Hampshire, has been a leading critic in the Senate against Russia’s meddling in the 2016 U.S. presidential election and has pressed for the United States to “send a strong message to the Kremlin.”

Senator Mark Warner (D-Virginia) said that it “absolutely sends the wrong message to lift sanctions, even temporarily, for the purpose of inviting him to speak to students at one of our nation’s premier universities.”

NASA and Roskosmos have cooperated for more than two decades. In 2011, the agencies grew closer than ever when the United States retired its Space Shuttle fleet, making Russian Soyuz rockets the only way to shuttle people and equipment to and from the International Space Station (ISS), and resulting in NASA paying Roskosmos some $2.5 billion for its services since.

Rogozin was deputy prime minister in charge of Russia’s defense industry when he was first subjected to Western sanctions over his public support for Russia’s illegal annexation of Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula in 2014. Under those sanctions, he is banned from entering EU countries.

He served as Russia’s ambassador to NATO from 2008-11.

He became director general of Roscosmos in May 2018.

With reporting by USA Today and Politico