Recently Roscosmos has put out a call for new cosmonauts, specifically to fly on board a new spacecraft called the Federatsiya to the moon. The idea that one can apply for a job to be the first Russian to fly beyond low Earth orbit is a great selling point and will no doubt cause many to respond eagerly. Whether any Russian will fly to the moon on board a Russian spacecraft remains to be seen.
To be sure, a Russian lunar expedition would fit into President Vladimir Putin’s desire to, as one might coin the phrase, “make #Russia great again.” The Russians never quite got over being beaten to the #Lunar Surface by the #United States during the 1960s. A purely Russian expedition would go a long way toward wiping out that stain, especially if NASA remains mired by small budgets and a lack of direction.
But the sad fact of the matter is that Russia lacks the resources to mount a serious lunar exploration program. The price of its export commodity, oil and gas, is rock bottom and is likely to remain so for the foreseeable future. The development of other aspects of the Russian economy has been hampered by corruption and mismanagement. What extra money exists is being used to finance imperialist adventures in Syria and the Ukraine and on a military buildup to confront the United States and her allies.
That is not to say that no Russian will walk on the moon in the future. However, as is the case with the International Space Station, the only way that a cosmonaut is going to get to the lunar surface is as part of a joint effort with another country. That partner could be China, which has its own moon shot, or the United States, which is increasingly turning its attention back to the moon and is presided over by a president who is keen to form an alliance with Russia.
The use of a lunar exploration program to try to mend fences between the United States and Russia, two countries that have been at odds in recent years, makes a lot of sense. The ISS partnership, some hick ups notwithstanding, has worked to the mutual benefit of the two countries. An international lunar effort could have the same effect. And a Russian cosmonaut, 50 or so years after Apollo 11, will have made it to the lunar surface at last.