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Russian-American Congress sends open letter to President Trump

Seraphim Hanisch

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First appeared on The Duran

As an American living in the Russian Federation, I have the pleasure of having direct interaction with many Russian people from all walks of life. Many are Orthodox Christian believers who love the Church and love their own president, Vladimir Putin, and consider him as a Defender of Orthodox Christianity and Christianity everywhere in the world.

Many others are more jaded in their opinions and share skepticism of both their government and the Church, and still others hate Mr. Putin and don’t understand what the big deal about any religion is about at all.

The educational background of my friends in Russia ranges from school age kids to doctors and diplomates, and the most expert computer engineers at Kaspersky Labs, where I do a lot of my independent teaching work in the English language.

(I have incidentally met Eugene Kaspersky personally, and many of his executives, and there is a great deal that needs to be said about the insane treatment of this truly fabulous company by American politicrats. But that is for later.)

One thing that literally every person I talked to in Russia shared in common was a dislike and / or distrust of Hillary Clinton as a presidential candidate in the USA.

Sometimes that dislike was mixed with fear of war with the US, and an overreaching sense that American people have completely lost their minds is common across a majority of Russians I speak to. Most of them are very interested in America, but the picture they get of us is shaped by the news media.

It is an extremely vital point to be made that the media that shapes Russia’s opinion of the United States is not the Russian state run media. At least, not alone.

The American media is piped into Russia pretty directly, so Russian people can see CNN and other major cable networks directly if they so choose.

In Moscow there are a fair number of Russian people that speak English, and at Kaspersky Labs many of them do. They understand for themselves what is going on in the USA but they suffer from a terrible lack of balanced information because the liberal networks pipe news into Russia and the conservative side doesn’t get a fair hearing.

Honestly with what Russia sees of “American Life” as presented by the liberal media, most of any propaganda work is already done. All the Russian networks have to do is rebroadcast it with translation.

Perhaps this is by design, as the liberal networks like CNN, TNT, The Learning Channel and others of this ilk paint a picture of America as a gay haven, a mecca of every sexually and mind-altering aberrant practice under the sun, and this is disgusting to a society that has largely retained some major elements of a very traditional point of view:

Drugs are NOT cool, and… Men are men, and women are glad of it!

I write all of this because it is necessary in order to give you some observed context for the issue at hand.

The Russian-American Congress in the United States sent an open letter to President Trump in the United States to express disappointment because of the difficulty in Russian-American relations.

The sentiments of the Russian-Americans in the United States and the Russian people here, as well as some of the less cynical “American Russians” here is pretty uniform – concern and disappointment, and even frustration. Here is a bit of what they have to say:

We, as Russian-Americans, are deeply affected by the recent rounds of sanctions. We can no longer rely on consulates in San Francisco and in Seattle for routine consular services. Many of us now have to fly across the country to get an appointment at the Russian Consulate in New York or Washington, D.C. for visas to visit family in Russia.

We can no longer invite our relatives to visit us because more visa applications from Russia are being rejected than ever before. The closure of the consulates and the expulsion of the diplomats have worsened our lives. And yet almost 90 percent of Russian-Americans voted for you in the hope that you would restore relations with Russia and lift the sanctions. Today, it appears that you are backing away from your campaign pledge to improve the bilateral relationship.

We do not support the present course of Russian-American relations. It cannot lead to anything good. It has become a serious obstacle to constructive dialogue. Moreover, this odious rhetoric against Russia breeds hatred toward all Russians. Five million Russian-Americans living in this country have to bear the brunt of the consequences of these reckless words and actions. Russian-Americans have come to face serious discrimination.

It does not serve the interests of America to collapse into the abyss of russophobia.

Here is the backstory in summary:

In Russia the American consulates have been closed except for the one in Moscow. This consulate is the ONLY location where Russian citizens can obtain tourist or business visas to come to the United States.

One of my friends who works at the Consulate explained that the gutting of the staff at the Embassy created an impossibly heavy workload, so the average wait time for a Russian citizen to get an American Visa is estimated to run up to six months.

By contrast, if the same Russian applies for an American Visa in a neighboring country like Latvia, the wait time can be as little as one day.

However with the exception of Ukraine, a Russian pretty much needs a Visa for the EU, and a trip to an EU member nation to do the visa process in any close sense.  And Russia is huge – so citizens in the far East in Vladivostok have to travel 9 hours by plane to Moscow to undergo a six-month wait Visa process.

The Russian-Americans are similarly being oppressed by the inconveniences cause by Moscow’s closing of the Russian consulates in the United States as Russia responds tit-for-tat to the American and European sanctions that are built of fantastic allegations anyway, most notably the unsubstantiated allegation that the Russian government is in some way responsible for the attempted murder on Sergey and Yulia Skripal.

Further, the Russophobia being pumped out by the American media is beginning to take a toll on American citizens who emigrated from Russia in hopes of pursuing the American dream for themselves.

This is bigotry, and unfair discrimination just as much as it is for any ethnic or race-based group in the United States.

The Russian-American Congress sent their letter to express their disappointment and concern to President Trump because the craziness in terms of all this has impacted their lives in many ways.

Here in Russia the disappointment is echoed by people like those at Kaspersky Labs, which has been singled out for extremely biased and unfair treatment to score political points.

Eugene Kaspersky has filed a lawsuit in regards to this matter against the US Department of Homeland Security. His points are completely logical and yet he is ignored the benefit of legal protections under the law as a business operator in the United States because of political expediency on the part of people like Bill Browder driving a truly insane and falsely based anti-Russia campaign.

I am a big supporter of President Trump, personally.  I voted for him as many times as I could. (wink)(Once, as a Colorado resident, which I am.)

And I would vote for him again in a heartbeat. He is a superb president on every count where he has been able to do what he feels is right. And we see this expressed in the tone of his phone contacts with President Putin and his actual personal meetings with him. Through his help the US has helped Russia avert the tragedy of ISIS terrorist attacks on its own soil, something which has gained the gratitude of the Russians and most notably President Putin himself.

But in this matter of Russian-American relations I am grieved along with the Russian people in both our nations.

I am similarly saddened because the Americans who rely on their news media to be truthful to them about world events are being given a grave disservice. Rather than seeing Russia for what it wants to be – a partner and an ally – the Americans have been getting a steady diet of propaganda that only serves the interests of those people who feel threatened by Russia asserting herself as her own sovereign nation. This is simply grievous, it has gone on much too long and it should stop.

There are some in the media – both mainstream and alternate media of which The Duran considers itself a part, that have tried to point out the notion of war brewing between the US and the Russian Federation.

While anything is possible because bad actors can start wars, I personally disagree with this notion. Russia has no aspiration for war with the United States or Europe in any way.

But the Russian Federation and its leadership are understandably frustrated with being blamed for everything under the sun, and then punished for things they have no part in, a practice that has been ongoing for several years at least.

How would you feel?

In pursuing this track of scapegoating Russia as many of the political establishment in the US and Europe have succeeded in doing, the Western powers are putting themselves at grave risk of a problem later. Not a problem with war, for Russia will not attack anyone. The only way a war will start is if the West starts it; but the scapegoating behavior is scandalous and it will not be forgotten.

Also, since it is falsely based, Russia will find her own way around it and prosper. When things get difficult in the West, its leaders will be forced to eat humble pie in some way that will not be pleasant… and it will have been totally unnecessary.

The Russian-Americans, and not a few American-Russians, are still hoping for President Trump to rise above the fray and fix this mess.

The American Congress – both parties – are full of Russiaphobes and people who are so ill-informed that they actually consider Bill Browder an expert on Russian affairs. I will place my bet that as a regular guy living here I know far more accurately what the real picture is than any rich tax evader.

In this, I echo President Putin’s statement. Together with the Russian-Americans in the USA, we say this:

“Listen to us now.”

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Russian Orthodox Church officially breaks ties with Constantinople

Biggest separation in almost 1,000 years as world’s largest Orthodox Church cuts communion with Constantinople over legitimizing schismatics.

Seraphim Hanisch

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The schism between the Russian Orthodox Church and the Ecumenical Patriarchate became official today, October 15, 2018, as the Russian Holy Synod reviewed the recent granting of communion to two schismatic groups in Ukraine, pursuant to Constantinople’s intent to grant autocephaly (full self-rule, or independence) to the agglomeration of these groups.

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RT reported that the Synod ruled that any further clerical relations with Constantinople are impossible, given the current conditions. Metropolitan Hilarion Alfeyev told journalists today about the breach in relations:

“A decision about the full break of relations with the Constantinople Patriarchate has been taken at a Synod meeting” that is currently been held in the Belarusian capital of Minsk, Hilarion said, as cited by TASS.

The move comes days after the Synod of the Constantinople Patriarchate decided to eventually grant the so-called autocephaly to the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, thus making the clerical organization, which earlier enjoyed a broad autonomy within the Moscow Patriarchate, fully independent.

The Moscow Patriarchate also said that it would not abide by any decisions taken by Constantinople and related to the status of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church. “All these decisions are unlawful and canonically void,” Hilarion said, adding that “the Russian Orthodox Church does not recognize these decisions and will not follow them.”

At the same time, the Russian Church expressed its hope that “a common sense will prevail” and Constantinople will change its decision. However, it still accused the Ecumenical Patriarch of initiating the “schism.”

The marks the most significant split in the Orthodox Church since the Great Schism of 1054, in which Rome excommunicated Constantinople, a breach between the Roman Catholics and Orthodox which has persisted ever since then, becoming hardened and embittered after the Roman Catholic armies sacked Constantinople during the Fourth Crusade in 1204.

Many other local Orthodox Churches expressed support for the Moscow Patriarchate’s position prior to today’s announcement, but the break in relations between these two churches does not have any known affect on local churches who hold communion with both Moscow and the Ecumenical Patriarchate at this time.

The website Orthochristian.com ran the entire statement of the Holy Synod regarding this situation. We offer a brief summary of statements here, taken from that source and patriarcha.ru, adding emphasis.

With deepest pain, the Holy Synod of the Russian Orthodox Church received the message of the Patriarchate of Constantinople published on October 11, 2018 about the decisions adopted by the Holy Synod of the Patriarchate of Constantinople: on the confirmation of the intention to “grant autocephaly to the Ukrainian Church”; on the opening of the “stavropegion” of the Patriarch of Constantinople in Kiev; on the “restoration in the hierarchal or priestly rank” of the leaders of the Ukrainian schism and their followers and the “return of their faithful to Church communion”; and on the “cancellation of the action” of the conciliar charter of the Patriarchate of Constantinople in 1686 concerning the transfer of the Kiev Metropolia to the Moscow Patriarchate

The Synod of the Church of Constantinople made these decisions unilaterally, ignoring the calls of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church and the entirety of the Russian Orthodox Church, as well as the fraternal Local Orthodox Churches, and their primates and bishops for pan-Orthodox discussion of the issue.

Entering into communion with those who have departed into schism, let alone those who have been excommunicated from the Church, is tantamount to departing into schism and is severely condemned by the canons of the holy Church: “If any one of the bishops, presbyters, or deacons, or any of the clergy shall be found communicating with excommunicated persons, let him also be excommunicated, as one who brings confusion on the order of the Church” (Canon 2 of the Council of Antioch; Canon 10, 11 of the Holy Apostles).

The decision of the Patriarchate of Constantinople on the “restoration” of the canonical status and the reception into communion of the former Metropolitan Philaret Denisenko, excommunicated from the Church, ignores a number of successive decisions of the Bishops’ Councils of the Russian Orthodox Church, the legitimacy of which are beyond doubt.

By the decision of the Bishops’ Council of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church in Kharkov of May 27, 1992, Metropolitan Philaret (Denisenko) was removed from the Kiev Cathedra and was banned from the clergy for not fulfilling the oath made by him before the cross and the Gospel at the previous Bishops’ Council of the Russian Orthodox Church.

By its ruling of June 11,1992, the Bishops’ Council of the Russian Orthodox Church, confirmed the decision of the Kharkov Council and expelled Philaret Denisenko from his rank, depriving him of every degree of the priesthood on the following charges: “Cruel and arrogant attitude to the subordinate clergy, dictatorialness, and intimidation (Tit. 1:7-8; Canon 27 of the Holy Apostles); introducing temptation among the faithful by his behavior and personal life (Matthew 18:7; Canon 3 of the First Ecumenical Council, Canon 5 of the Sixth Ecumenical Council); oath-breaking (Canon 25 of the Holy Apostles); public slander and blasphemy against the Bishops’ Council (Canon 6 of the Second Ecumenical Council); the celebration of clerical functions, including ordinations, in a state of suspension (Canon 28 of the Holy Apostles); the perpetration of a schism in the Church (Canon 15 of the First-Second Council).” All ordinations performed by Philaret in a suspended state since May 27, 1992, and the punishments imposed by him, were declared invalid.

Despite repeated calls for repentance, after the deprivation of his hierarchal rank Philaret Denisenko continued his schismatic activity, including within the bounds of other Local Churches. By the ruling of the Bishops’ Council of the Russian Orthodox Church of 1997, he was given over to anathema.

The aforesaid decisions were recognized by all the Local Orthodox Churches, including the Church of Constantinople.

… Now, after more than two decades, the Patriarchate of Constantinople has changed its position for political reasons.

… St. Nikodemos of the Holy Mountain, in his Pedalion, which is an authoritative source of ecclesiastical-canonical law of the Church of Constantinople, interprets Canon 9 of the Fourth Ecumenical Council, rejecting the false opinion on the right of Constantinople to consider appeals from other Churches: “The Primate of Constantinople does not have the right to act in the dioceses and provinces of other Patriarchs, and this rule did not give him the right to take appeals on any matter in the Ecumenical Church… “ Listing a whole range of arguments in favor of this interpretation, referring to the practice of the decisions of the Ecumenical Councils, St. Nikodemos concludes: “At present … the Primate of Constantinople is the first, the only, and the last judge over the metropolitans subordinate to him—but not over those who are subject to the rest of the Patriarchs. For, as we said, the last and universal judge of all the Patriarchs is the Ecumenical Council and no one else.” It follows from the above that the Synod of the Church of Constantinople does not have canonical rights to withdraw judicial decisions rendered by the Bishops’ Council of the Russian Orthodox Church.

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Patriarch Bartholomew lifts anathemas on schismatics in Ukraine (VIDEO)

Most of the Orthodox world is in strong opposition to this move by Patriarch Bartholomew, whose motivations seem not to be of Christ.

Seraphim Hanisch

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The biggest news in the Eastern Orthodox world in recent times occurred on Thursday, October 11, 2018. The Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople, Bartholomew I, lifted the anathemas against two schismatic Ukrainian Churches and their leaders, paving the way to the creation of a fully independent Ukrainian national Orthodox Church.

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This announcement was given in English and is shown here in video with the textual transcript following:

“Presided by His All Holiness the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, the Holy and Sacred Synod convened for its regular session from October 9 to 11, 2018 in order to examine and discuss items on its agenda. The Holy Synod discussed in particular and at length, the ecclesiastical mater of Ukraine in the presence of His Excellency Archbishop Daniel of Pamphilon and His Grace Bishp Ilarion of Edmonon, Patriarchal Exarchs to Ukraine, and following extensive deliberations decreed (emphasis added):

First, to renew the decision already made, that the Ecumenical Patriarchate proceed to the granting of autocephaly to the Church of Ukraine;

Second, to re-establish at this moment the stavropegion of the Ecumenical Patriarchate in Kiev—one of its many starvorpegion in Ukraine that existed there always;

Third, to accept and review the petitions of appeal of Philaret Denisenko and Makary Maletich and their followers who found themselves in schism not for dogmatic reasons, in accordance with the canonical prerogatives of the Patriarchate of Constantinople to receive such petitions by hierarchs and other clergy of all the autocephalous Churches. Thus, the above mentioned have been canonically reinstated to their hierarchical or priestly rank, and their faithful have been restored to communion with the Church;

Fourth, to revoke the legal binding of the Synodal letter of the year 1686, issued for the circumstances of that time, which granted the right through economia to the Patriarch of Moscow to ordain the Metropolitan of Kiev elected by the clergy-laity assembly of his eparchy, who would commemorate the Ecumenical Patriarch as the first hierarch at any celebration, proclaiming and affirming his canonical dependence to the Mother Church of Constantinople;

Fifth, to appeal to all sides involved that they avoid appropriation of churches, monasteries, and other properties as well as every other act of violence and retaliation so that he peace and love of Christ may prevail.”

There are a few things that must be said about what this declaration is not before we get to the matter of what the points of actually are. The point of reference is the strict letter of the text above itself.

  • This is not a granting of autocephaly (full independent self-rule status) like the fourteen universally canonical Orthodox jurisdictions in the world. However, it is a huge step towards this status.
  • As far as Constantinople is concerned, Filaret Denisenko, the leader and “Patriarch” of the “Kyiv Patriarchate of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church” and Makary, the “Metropolitan” of the “Ukrainian Orthodox Autocephalous Church”, and all their faithful are now restored to communion. The statement says that this applies to “The Church” which may be trying to state that these two men (and all the faithful that they lead), are now in communion with the entirety of canonical Orthodoxy, but more likely, this may be a carefully worded statement to say they now are in communion with Constantinople alone.
  • There is an official call for the cessation of the violence directed against the Moscow Patriarchate parishes and communities, who are the only canonically recognized Orthodox Church in Ukraine, and who are also the largest by far in that country. The Kyiv Patriarchate and Uniate (Roman oriented) Greek Catholics in Ukraine have gone on record for seizing MP church properties, often by force, with neo-Nazi sympathizers and other radical Ukrainian nationalists. So this official call to cease the violence is now a matter of public record.

However, the reaction has been far less civil than the clergy wished for.

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko: “Expressing his view of the Moscow Patriarchate, Poroshenko added, “This is a great victory of the God-loving Ukrainian people over the Moscow demons, the victory of Good over Evil, the victory of Light over Darkness.”’

Perhaps this is the reason Metropolitan Onuphry of Ukraine (exarch under the Moscow Patriarchate) has been labeled an enemy of Ukraine and is now receiving death threats. Very civil.

Poroshenko’s statement is all the more bizarre, considering that it has been Ukrainian ultra-nationalists that have been violently attacking Moscow – related parishes in Ukraine. This has been corroborated by news sources eager to pin the blame on Russia, such as the U.K. Guardian.

The Union of Orthodox Journalists, based in Kiev and supportive of the Moscow Patriarchate, has been under intense cyber attack since October 11th, when the EP’s announcement was issued.

Ukrainian Orthodox Church (Moscow Patriarchate) Chancellor, Metropolitan Anthony of Boryspil and Brovary: “What happened at the Synod in Istanbul yesterday shocked the entire Orthodox world. It seems the Patriarchate of Constantinople is consciously embarking on a path of schism in world Orthodoxy. Patriarch Bartholomew ignored the calls of the Local Churches to convene a meeting of the primates to work out a common and conciliar solution to the Ukrainian Church issue and unilaterally made very serious but erroneous decisions. I hope the Orthodox world will give this action an objective evaluation… Having received the schismatics into communion, Patriarch Bartholomew did not make them canonical, but has himself embarked on the path of schism. The schismatics remain schismatics. They did not receive any autocephaly or tomos. It seems they have lost even that independence, although non-canonical, that they had and which they always emphasized.”

Metropolitan Rostislav of the Czech Lands and Slovakia:“The Orthodox world recognizes the only canonical primate of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church—His Beatitude Metropolitan Onuphry of Kiev and All Ukraine. This fact was repeatedly mentioned and confirmed by the primate of the Great Church of Christ His Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew on behalf of all present at the Synaxis of the Primates of the Local Orthodox Churches that was held in Chambésy (Switzerland) from January 21 to 27, 2016. Therefore, any attempt to legalize the Ukrainian schismatics by the state authorities should be strongly condemned by all the primates of the Local Orthodox Churches.

Patriarch Irinej of Serbia wrote two letters to the Ecumenical Patriarch, advocating that the provision of a new autocephaly is possible only with the consent of all local Orthodox Churches. According to Sedmitza.ru (Translation by Pravoslavie.ru),

“In these letters, it was very clearly stated that the granting of autocephaly cannot be the prerogative the Patriarchate of Constantinople alone, that new autocephalies must be created only with the consent of all the Local Orthodox Churches, as the Holy Synod of Antioch also said in its recent statement.”

Pat. Irinej also warned the Patriarchate of Constantinople against making such major decisions unilaterally, because “it will not bring harmony and peace to the Ukrainian land, but, on the contrary, will cause new divisions and new schisms.”

The Holy Synod of Antioch, the oldest Orthodox Church, and actually the very first place where the disciples of Christ were even called “Christians” weighed in on the issue as well and they had several things to say:

“The fathers examined the general Orthodox situation. They stressed that the Church of Antioch expresses her deep worries about the attempts to change the boundaries of the Orthodox Churches through a new reading of history. She considers that resorting to a unilateral reading of history does not serve Orthodox unity. It rather contributes to the fueling of the dissensions and quarrels within the one Church. Thus, the Church of Antioch refuses the principle of establishing parallel jurisdictions within the canonical boundaries of the Patriarchates and the autocephalous Churches as a way to solve conflicts, or as a de facto situation in the Orthodox world.

To summarize, this move by Constantinople is not being warmly received by many, many people. Most of the local Churches are on record giving their reaction to this process. In brief, here is the list most of the Local Churches and a one or two word summary of their reactions.

Patriarchate of Georgia: Unilateral action is wrong; Constantinople and Moscow must cooperate and find a solution together.

Patriarchate of Jerusalem: recognizes Ukraine as a canonical territory of the Russian Orthodox Church alone, as do all other local Churches

Patriarchate of Alexandria and all Africa: The Church does not bow to politicians. Moscow-led church is the only canonical Church in Ukraine.

Archbishop of Cyprus: Decries the Ukrainian situation but offered to mediate a discussion between Moscow and Constantinople

Bulgarian Patriarchate: Interference of the State in Church affairs leads to serious and negative consequences for both.

Polish Orthodox Church: Metropolitan Sawa called for a council of Orthodox ruling hierarchs to discuss this situation.

Estonian Orthodox Church: Condemns Constantinople’s actions in Ukraine.

Greek Archdiocese of America: Supports Constantinople’s actions in Ukraine.

The Orthodox Church of Greece (Metropolitan Seraphim of Piraeus quoted): “Schismatics, as we know, are not the Church, and communion with them is forbidden by the Divine and holy canons and the Apostolic and Ecumenical Councils. Why then this persistence of the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew in recognizing schismatics as an autocephalous Church? To provoke schisms and divisions in the one universal and Apostolic Church of Christ?”

Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia (ROCOR): Ceased commemoration of Constantinople, ceased concelebration with Constantinople.

This issue has also rocked the secular geopolitical world.

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Failed Soyuz launch deepens mystery of trouble with Russian spacecraft

Aborted launch follow close on the heels of discovery of hole in Soyuz spacecraft docked to the ISS, causing great concern.

Seraphim Hanisch

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Space travel is arguably the most risky venture mankind has undertaken in its history. When something goes wrong, the reaction of space agencies is usually great caution. This is in effect now as the ISS canceled all spacewalking activities for the foreseeable future after an astronaut ferry mission in a Soyuz rocket went very wrong shortly after launch from Baikonur on Thursday last week.

As the Soyuz FG launch vehicle was heading for orbit, shortly before the schedule T +120 second booster detachment, something happened. The booster failed and the emergency escape system triggered, pulling the Russian cosmonaut Alexey Ovchinin and American astronaut Nick Hague away from the failed first stage. The escape system worked perfectly, and the astronauts endured a fairly grueling 6.7g deceleration before landing safely in a field some 400 km (250 miles) downrange from the launch pad.

German Astronaut Alexander Gerst captured this image of Soyuz launch vehicle at the time of its failure.

The success of the emergency escape system cannot be overrated, obviously. But the failure of the Soyuz rocket is the second significant problem to arise in a program known usually in the US and Russia by its almost boring, “business as usual” demeanor.

The first problem arose a little over a month ago, on 29 August, when a small hole was discovered in the hull of a Soyuz docking module attached to the International Space Station. That hole was found after a slight drop in ISS cabin air pressure was noted by instruments on board. The hole measured two millimeters across and had been drilled by someone in the upper orbital module of the Soyuz crew rocket.

The reason for this is as yet unknown, but the company Energia is the place where the final assembly of the Soyuz spacecraft takes place. As a coincidence, the two astronauts who failed to reach the ISS on Thursday were actually slated to inspect the hole from the earlier craft to continue the investigation into how this happened.

The inside-ISS view of a 2mm wide hole someone drilled in the hull of the Soyuz crew vehicle, found on August 29th, 2018

The reason is simple. If there is a hole in the hull, the ISS can lose its atmosphere and anyone on the station risks suffocation and death. As it stands, the hole that was discovered was very small, and the leak would have taken a very long time to depressurize the whole ISS, but such malpractice should not happen at all in spacefaring equipment. Hence, both Russian and American space agencies are concerned.

The concurrence of these two incidents has now led to a cancellation of spacewalks from the ISS, and it also has led to a freeze of launches while RosKosmos and NASA investigate the issue.

Soyuz is the only operating launch vehicle taking astronauts to the ISS at this time. The United States lost its spacefaring capability when it canceled its Space Shuttle program in 2011. At that time, too, relations with fellow spacefaring Russia were in a better state than they are now. Ironically, as the US-Russian diplomatic row took hold, so did American dependency on Russian equipment – RD-180 engines for American rockets and the Soyuz platform as the only way to ferry astronauts to and from the Space Station.

Now, even the Russian program is at a standstill. With spacewalks canceled, and Soyuz launches on hold pending a further investigation into this recent failure, the situation is this:

The ISS is presently crewed by three astronauts: Serena M. Auñon-Chancellor and Alexander Gerst of the USA and Germany respectively, and Sergey Prokopyev of Russia. Their return vehicle is the Soyuz spacecraft with the hole in it. While the hole is sealed, it was later found that it extended through to the micrometeoroid shield, a piece of worse news. While confidence is reasonably high that the craft with its patch-job will survive re-entry, the preference was to have a fully viable craft for the return journey, and now this will have to wait for at least another month while the investigation on the ground is carried out.

Initial reports about the Soyuz malfunction are vague, only noting that components of different stages of the rocket collided with one another on the ascent.

As the investigation continues, perhaps SpaceX and Blue Horizons may be seen to gain front and center stage. SpaceX is in the closest position to being able to take men and women into orbit but its Crew Dragon is still in development and testing. No one else is even close.

While spaceflight is often off the radar of most people in our times, these two recent events have brought it back into the spotlight, as they highlight the concern for a program that is not being pursued as it was once, back in the great Space Race of the 1960’s.

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