On March 16, 2020, the Kremlin reportedly issued an order to Russia’s space agency, Roscosmos, to establish cooperation with Venezuela’s Bolivarian Agency for Space Activity (ABAE) in the fields of astronomical research, remote sensing, geodesy, and satellite communication. The order was issued on the recommendation of Glavcosmos, the Roscosmos subsidiary tasked with promoting international projects.
The two countries will reportedly next negotiate a formal bilateral agreement to “pool collective scientific manpower” from their respective space programs. The agreement appears to be the result of bilateral talks that have been ongoing since 2016. Previously, the President of ABAE noted that Russia could help commercialize the country’s space resources that, in turn, could diversify the economy and help Venezuela achieve “technological independence,” despite Venezuela’s space industry being reliant on foreign space programs.
Most recently, Caracas relied on Chinese expertise and infrastructure to launch one communication and two surveillance satellites that have been characterized as critical tools in aiding the regime’s security forces and key economic sectors such as agriculture and energy. Subsequently, in 2018, following a visit by Maduro to Moscow, it was announced that Venezuela would begin using Russia’s global navigation satellite system, GLONASS, alluding to the notion it would help Venezuela boost the telecommunications sector as well as other existing areas of cooperation, such as energy, information, pharmaceuticals, and the military-industrial complex.
Beyond Venezuela, the agreement with ABAE adds further momentum to Roscosmos’ recent efforts to deepen space cooperation with other Latin American counterparts. To date, much of Roscosmos’ activities in Latin America have been directed toward supporting Russia’s GLONASS satellite system. In October 2019, Roscosmos signed a protocol on space cooperation with Argentina’s National Space Activities Commission (CONAE) covering work in the fields of “navigation, remote sensing of the Earth, scientific research, the development of space technology, and manned space exploration.” Russia has also reportedly been considering establishing a GLONASS station in Argentina for several years, possible in Cordoba, near Argentina’s Teofilo Tabanera Space Center. At present, Russia operates (or is in the process of establishing) five ground stations in the region – four in Brazil and one in Nicaragua — to support the system.