When Russia sent its armed forces to Ukraine amid accusations of Nazism and NATO aggression, it left most of its credibility behind. What remains of its credibility is in tatters as Russia moves towards pariah status. This is what happens when you unleash your army on your peaceful neighbor and the body count rises next to the piles of rubble that were once Ukrainian towns.
Now Russia appears to be “threatening” to end its participation in the ISS due to the economic sanctions the world has imposed on it. Will they end their involvement with the ISS? Does anyone care more? Does anyone want them to stay? Will we see a line of diplomats asking them to reconsider.
Russia may be a low-hanging fruit in the Western media right now, but public statements by the Russian government still deserve close scrutiny. According to some reports, Russia has decided that the rest of the world will no longer benefit from its involvement with the ISS. Russia has been saying it for a while now, and maybe this time it really means it.
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The latest “threat” to abandon the ISS comes from Dmitry Rogozin, head of the Russian space agency Roscosmos. Rogozin is deeply embedded in Russian politics and its overlord, Vladimir Putin. Rogozin previously served as Russia’s Deputy Prime Minister for Defense Industry and was also Russia’s Ambassador to NATO. So when he speaks, he speaks in concert with Putin and his regime.
Russia is no longer involved with the European Space Agency in the Exo-Mars Rover mission. Germany will no longer cooperate with Russia in the e-ROSITA mission. Commercial customers have canceled launches at the Baikonur Cosmodrome. Russia refuses to sell rocket engines. Russia’s attack on Ukraine has ruined all these space-related activities. Will the same thing happen to the ISS?
Russian chatter and threats about the ISS date back to shortly after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and are a response to Western sanctions imposed on Russia. When Russia launched its attack on Ukraine, American astronaut Mark Vande Hei was on board the ISS and was due to return to Earth aboard a Soyuz MS-19 spacecraft alongside two Russian cosmonauts. The situation was concerning, although at the time NASA dismissed any specific concerns about astronauts and cosmonauts who were on the ISS. Vande Hei and the cosmonauts returned to Earth without incident.
Dimitri Rogozin’s current statement about abandoning the ISS came at the end of April. Russian state news agencies quoted Rogozin as saying: “The decision has already been made, we don’t have to talk about it publicly. I can only say this: in accordance with our obligations, we will inform our partners of the end of our work on the ISS with one year’s notice. Tass and RIA Novosti reported the comments.
Many countries are involved in the ISS, but Russia and the United States are the two main partners. They are geopolitical rivals, but they have a long cooperative relationship on the ISS that is incompatible with their political relationship. There have been tensions between the two nations in the past, and the ISS has been a bit of rhetorical football. Is this the last part of the political back and forth?
NASA Administrator Bill Nelson doesn’t seem too concerned. In an interview with CNBC in April, Nelson said: “Cosmonauts and astronauts get along as usual. Today marks an important event as three cosmonauts will launch on a Soyuz from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakstan to the International Space Station And cooperation in civilian space, as opposed to military space, that cooperation continues, and we expect it to continue.
None of the tensions between Russia, the United States and the ISS has anything to do with the Russian cosmonauts themselves or any of the scientific, technical or professional staff at Roscosmos. Rogozin is a spokesman for Putin, and it seems to be entirely political.
In another interview with The Associated Press, Nelson said, “It’s just Dmitry Rogozin. It springs from time to time. But in the end, he worked with us. The other people who work in the Russian civilian space program are professionals. They don’t miss a beat with us American astronauts and American Mission Control.
But like many statements coming out of Russia these days, it’s worth digging deeper. It turns out that Russia should soon be done with the ISS. The current international agreement to manage the ISS ends in 2024. So, in this case, Rogozin can boast of leaving the ISS, even if it is enough for them not to be part of the next agreement. So the threat of Russia leaving the ISS might not really be a threat at all.
As in many other areas, Russia no longer seems to have too much leeway. When the United States retired space shuttles in 2011, NASA relied on the Russian Soyuz spacecraft to ferry astronauts back and forth to the ISS. But now SpaceX can ferry crew between Earth and the ISS. Where does that leave Russia and its veiled threats?
The ISS is made up of two main modules, the American Orbital Segment (USOS) and the Russian Orbital Segment (ROS). The ROS is responsible for guidance, control and navigation. It’s unclear what would happen if Russia pulls out of the ISS, while the US has made it clear that it would like to continue operating the ISS until 2030.
One of Russia’s problems is that part of Putin’s legitimacy stems from Russia’s international status. And the Russian space program is an important part of Russia’s international status. Can they afford to threaten to abandon the ISS?
Does anyone care more? Or is Russia just threatening to further isolate itself and consolidate its pariah status?
At some point, this war will end. All wars do. Will NASA, ESA and other space agencies welcome Russia in space cooperation?
Russian threats don’t seem to carry much weight right now. Their word doesn’t mean much either, since they keep accepting civilian evacuations in Ukraine and then attacking the evacuation routes.
Elon Musk is one of the last people to face Russian threats. Reports indicate that Rogozin threatened to hold Musk responsible for making his Starlink technology available to the Ukrainian Armed Forces.
Musk appears indifferent to Rogozin’s threats and has ignored them.
Maybe their threats mean nothing and the rest of the world will go on without Russia. Elon Musk is certainly not bothered by Rogozin’s threats.
Unfortunately, the back and forth in the media and on Twitter, and the threats that Rogozin repeatedly issues, are accompanied by more than just words. Russian armed forces are killing Ukrainian civilians in a wanton display of aggression and contempt and there seems to be no end in sight.