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A money dispute between Russia and France could threaten the ESA/Russian ExoMars partnership, as well as the Arianespace deal that launches Soyuz rockets from French Guiana.
In what appears to be an attempt to force France’s European neighbors to apply pressure to Paris, Roscosmos hinted that multiple cooperative space efforts between Russian and the European Union, and with the European Space Agency (ESA), could suffer if the payments are not freed. The payments, which are not disputed by Arianespace, have been one of the collateral effects of the battle by former shareholders of Russia’s Yukos oil company. In 2014, these shareholders won an initial award of $50 billion from an international arbitration panel in The Hague, Netherlands, against the Russian government for dismantling the company.
Since then, the shareholders have been trying to collect Russian government assets wherever they find a sympathetic legal environment outside Russia, including France and Belgium. In France, different shareholder representatives sought seizure of the Eutelsat and Arianespace payments. The same dispute has blocked payments to other Russian companies. Paris-based satellite operator Eutelsat owes Russia’s biggest satellite operator, Russian Satellite Communications Co. (RSCC) of Moscow, around $300 million for services related to Eutelsat use of RSCC satellites.
Russia needs cash, which is why they need their partnership with Arianespace, which has brought them a lot of cash over time. Their problem is that the money owed the Yukos oil company shareholders has allowed those shareholders to put liens on any Russian earnings in Europe, which has only increased Russia’s financial bind. If Russia can’t get its hands on its Arianespace earnings, then it really makes no sense for them to continue the partnership. Better to threaten to pull out with the hope that the threat will maybe force payment.
Moreover, Russia might also be realizing that it cannot at present afford to participate in ExoMars and is looking for a way to get out of that commitment. This money dispute gives them that out.