The world is on high alert because of the unfolding crisis between Ukraine and Russia. Ever since Russian troops began deploying to the border regions between the two countries, there have been fears that conflict would ensure. Since the invasion began, there have also been genuine anxieties that it could spill over into neighboring states and even escalate to the point of a nuclear standoff. In the midst of all this, there have also been worries about the toll it might take on international efforts in space.
The International Space Station (ISS) is made possible through the cooperative efforts and funding of its participating space agencies – NASA (U.S.), Roscosmos (Russia), the ESA (Europe), the CSA (Canada), and JAXA (Japan). As such, it was rather curious when Russian state media company RIA Novosti posted a video online that showed Russian cosmonauts packing up and detaching the Russian segment from the ISS. Whether this represents a threat or a prediction, the message is clear: cooperation in space may be the next casualty of this war!
Russian gov’t-controlled RIA Novosti @rianru posted a video on Telegram made by @Roscosmos where cosmonauts say goodbye to Mark Vande Hei on #ISS, depart, and then the Russian segment detaches from the rest of ISS. @Rogozin is clearly threatening the ISS program. #NASA #Ukraine pic.twitter.com/fj2coK1xR1
— NASA Watch (@NASAWatch) March 5, 2022
The video appeared on Telegram, a cloud-based instant messaging platform that was previously restricted in Russia (it was officially unblocked in June 2020). The video is tagged with RIA Novosti’s logo (??? ???????) and shows cosmonauts entering the Russian segment of the ISS, sealing the hatches behind them, and saying goodbye to NASA astronaut Col. Mark T. Vande Hei, the Flight Engineer for Expedition 64 and 65 (Oct. 2020 to Oct. 2021).
The video then shows the Russian segment – made up of the Zarya, Zvesta, and Nauka modules – detaching from the station (which includes real footage and CGI-animation) and footage of mission controllers at the RKA Mission Control Centre in Moscow watch and applaud. The video concludes with the disclaimer: “This is based on unreal events.” In other words, the video consists of spliced footage depicting something that hasn’t actually happened (just in case that wasn’t clear!)
This video appears to be the latest salvo in an ongoing war of words between Russian sources and astronauts on social media. On the same day that NASA Watch retweeted the video, Roscosmos head Dmitry Rogozin tweeted the following statement:
“The blame for the collapse of cooperation in space lies on the shoulders of the United States, Britain, France and Germany. These countries destroyed what was created by mankind with such difficulty, what was created by the blood and sweat of those people who mastered space.”
This echoed statements he made in an interview with Russian state television (the clip was included in the tweet). It was also mirrored by multiple statements and actions taken by Rogozin in recent weeks, all of which appeared to show how Russia could threaten or hold up operations aboard the ISS. It all began with Rogozin tweeting his support for Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and threatening to stop cooperating on the ISS.
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— ??????? (@Rogozin) March 2, 2022
These include (but are not limited to) announcing that Russia will no longer service Russian-made engines used to launch American satellites. Shortly after U.S. President Joe Biden announced sanctions aimed at Russia’s aerospace industry, Rogozin issued a series of hostile tweets. In one, posted on Feb. 24th, he went as far as to say that without Roscosmos, the ISS could fall on Europe:
“Europe? There is also the option of dropping a 500-ton structure to India and China. Do you want to threaten them with such a prospect? The ISS does not fly over Russia, so all the risks are yours. Are you ready for them? Gentlemen, when planning sanctions, check those who generate them for illness.”
On Feb. 27th, while arguing with a user who voiced criticism of his support for Putin and the invasion of Ukraine, he tweeted: “Reading the news feed, you see what chronic hatred the West has for Russia, and how every Russophobe is trying to interrupt the “common cause” with a personal contribution of his own s*** and poison.”
But it was the video he posted on March 2nd that appeared to have the biggest impact. In this video, technicians at the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan are shown taping over the American and Japanese flag decals on a Russian rocket, with the caption: “The launchers at Baikonur decided that without the flags of some countries, our rocket would look more beautiful.”