On Gagarin flight anniversary, Putin vows Russia will remain space power

MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russian President Vladimir Putin celebrated the 60th anniversary of Yuri Gagarin’s historic space flight on Monday with a promise that Moscow will remain a key space and a key force for nuclear power.

Gagarin became the first human in space on April 12, 1961, one of the Soviet Union’s major Cold War victories and a pivotal moment in its space race with the United States.

The Soviet Union’s achievements in space remain a source of national pride and patriotic rallying at a time when Moscow-Washington relations are at a low after the Cold War.

To mark the anniversary, Putin laid flowers on a monument to Gagarin near his landing site near the town of Engels, about 860 km southeast of Moscow.

“This is without a doubt a great event that changed the world. We will always be proud that it was our country that paved the way into space, ”Putin told senior officials.

“In the 21st century, Russia must properly maintain its status as one of the leading nuclear and space powers as the space sector is directly linked to defense.”

Gagarin’s 108-minute orbit around the earth brought him international fame and earned him the status of national hero in the Soviet Union, who erected statues and painted murals in his honor on his vast territory.

The head of the Russian space agency Roscosmos and members of the Communist Party laid flowers on Gagarin’s grave at the foot of the Kremlin wall on Monday.

Other memorial events were more lighthearted, including a cleanup in the Siberian city of Irkutsk where volunteers dressed up as characters from Star Wars.

Celebrations also took place in space.

“Our scientists and engineers have demonstrated the undeniable superiority of our homeland’s technology and made us the (world’s) first space power,” said cosmonaut Oleg Novitsky in a video address of the International Space Station (ISS), which was flanked by three other Russian cosmonauts.

Roscosmos has suffered a number of technical breakdowns and corruption scandals in recent years, including during the construction of the Vostochny Cosmodrome in the far east of the country, where contractors were accused of embezzling state funds.

In 2019, Putin complained to government officials about corruption at the facility, and investigators said they are investigating allegations of fraud.

Reporting by Gabrielle Tétrault-Farber; Adaptation by Mike Collett-White

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