NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine has extended an invitation to a sanctioned Russian official with a long history of racist and homophobic viewpoints.
Ultranationalist Dmitry Rogozin would be the second known sanctioned Russian to visit the United States under the Trump administration. The meeting, details of which are still “sparse,” will reportedly take place at NASA’s Houston headquarters in early 2019, according to Politico.
Until last May, Rogozin served as Russia’s Deputy Prime Minister of Russia. In 2014, he was one of the first officials the United States sanctioned over his role in the annexation of Crimea, freezing his U.S. assets and prohibiting him entry to the country.
Russian President Vladimir Putin appointed Rogozin head of Roscosmos, the state corporation that oversees Russia’s space program, this past summer. The move was surprising, considering the carefully apolitical space exploration alliance Russia and the United States have enjoyed in the past.
According to Politico, Bridenstine first extended the controversial invitation in October. NASA officials say that planning for Rogozin’s “potential visit…is still underway.”
U.S. officials can meet with sanctioned Russian officials in third countries rather than waive sanctions, but Russian state media reports from October claimed NASA had convinced the White House at the time to “temporarily” lift the travel ban.
Rogozin has a strong anti-LGBTQ reputation. In 2015, he claimed that the West would “fall under the weight of Islamic State and gays. The year before, he openly mocked Latvia’s foreign minister Edgars Rinkevics for coming out. Back in 2012, he called Madonna a “whore” for making pro-LGBTQ comments before a concert in St. Petersburg.
According to SpaceNews, in 2005, Rogozin, then the leader of the Russian nationalist political party Rodina, also saw his party banned from participating in elections after its political ads were “found to incite racial hatred.” He resigned as party leader in 2006.
It’s unclear if a waiver has officially been issued allowing Rogozin to visit the United States. Already, many in Washington have issued strong condemnations, with Sen. Mark Warner (D-VA) telling Politico doing so “absolutely sends the wrong message,” and former deputy assistant secretary of defense Evelyn Farkas calling the invitation “appalling” and “utterly inappropriate.”