It’s no secret that Russia’s space agency head Dmitry Rogozin is a bit of a character.
From offering SpaceX CEO Elon Musk a cup of tea earlier this month to calling Venus a “Russian planet,” or likening the country’s Soyuz rocket to a Kalashnikov, Rogozin isn’t afraid to speak his mind.
Today, Rogozin is back at it — and this time, he stirred the pot by calling mild-mannered Ars Technica senior space reporter Eric Berger a war criminal. Yes, seriously.
Here’s what went down. First, Berger wrote a story speculating about why Rogozin might be so persistent in his requests for Musk to visit him at home.
The space chief invited Musk to his home “to be a guest of my family,” according to an extremely rare CNN interview on September 7, to discuss anything from “exploring the universe” to “extraterrestrial life.”
In short, Berger argued in his piece that the space chief desperately wants Russia’s plans to shoot a movie on board the International Space Station to be a success.
Rogozin wants Musk to “attract the glitz and attention Rogozin so desperately craves as he seeks to craft an image of the Russian space program that is more Hollywood than Potemkin village,” Berger wrote.
Besides, Berger notes that Russian operatives have poisoned at least one of their adversaries using tea before — making his offer to Musk all the more ominous.
So grab the popcorn, because the tweets got pretty spicy.
“Only a poisoned soul can be worse than polonium,” Rogozin shot back at Berger, referring to a substance infamously used to poison Alexander Litvinenko, a former KGB officer who fled to the UK in 2000.
Was that a threat? Rogozin doesn’t seem to think so.
Even more strangely, Rogozin also tweeted that “it is strange that no sanctions were imposed against you for your invasion of Afghanistan and Iraq and the destruction of Libya,” after Berger pointed out Rogozin wasn’t able to travel to meet Musk at SpaceX’s facilities in Texas due to US sanctions over the Russian invasion of Crimea.
In other words, Rogozin appears to have accused an American journalist of invading Afghanistan and Iraq. Needless to say, we’re not aware of Berger ever having invaded either country.
“Propaganda journalists bear no less responsibility than politicians,” Rogozin shot back after another Twitter user pointed out that high ranking Russian government officials may be more responsible for invading foreign countries than mere journalists.
“He writes not about space technology, but about space politics,” a fuming Rogozin wrote in Russian. “Read his articles. Typical American propagandist.”
The space community reacted with bemusement and mild alarm.
“Nothing to see here, just very normal tweets from the head of the Russian space agency,” freelance space journalist Jonathan O’Callaghan chimed in.
To be clear, making thinly veiled threats at journalists is a serious matter. With accusations flying on Twitter, it’s hard to comprehend why a man of Rogozin’s rank would wade into the debate.
One thing’s for sure: watching these disputes unfurl on the platform is entertaining as hell.
When asked whether Berger is on Rogozin’s reading list, the official replied: “not anymore.”
READ MORE: Here’s why Russia’s space chief keeps asking Elon Musk to visit him [Ars Technica]