US believes Russia developing space-based nuclear weapon, says source

By Thomson Reuters Feb 20, 2024 | 5:31 PM

(Reuters) – The United States believes Russia is developing a space-based anti-satellite nuclear weapon whose detonation could disrupt everything from military communications to phone-based ride services, a source familiar with the matter said on Tuesday.

The source, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said it was his understanding the system would involve a nuclear explosive device placed into orbit.

Russian President Vladimir Putin on Tuesday said Russia was against the deployment of nuclear weapons in space and his defence minister flatly denied reports Russia was developing a nuclear capability for space.

The White House and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence declined comment on the matter.

Reports about possible Russian development emerged after the Republican chair of the U.S. House of Representatives intelligence committee on Feb. 14 issued a cryptic statement warning of a “serious national security threat.”

The clearest public sign Washington thinks Moscow is working on a space-based anti-satellite nuclear weapon was a White House spokesperson’s comment on Thursday that the United States believes the system being developed would violate the Outer Space Treaty.

The 1967 treaty bars signatories – including Russia and the United States – from placing “in orbit around the earth any objects carrying nuclear weapons or any other kinds of weapons of mass destruction.”

U.S.-Russian relations are already strained by a host of issues, chief among them Russia’s February 2022 invasion of Ukraine which has triggered the biggest confrontation between the West and Russia since the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis.

The New York Times reported on Saturday, without citing sources, that in recent weeks a warning has circulated from America’s spy agencies that Russia may be planning a new secret military satellite launch and that the key question was whether it would use it to put an actual nuclear weapon into space.

Bloomberg on Tuesday reported Russia could deploy a nuclear weapon or a mock warhead into space as early as this year. It also cited unnamed sources as saying the United States believes Russia does not plan to detonate a device but that there was risk of an accidental explosion, disabling scores of satellites.

The White House and the Office of the Director of Intelligence declined comment on the Bloomberg report.

(Reporting by Arshad Mohammed in Saint Paul, Minn.; Additional Reporting by Steve Holland and Jonathan Landay in Washington; Editing by Stephen Coates)