Russian state-affiliated media Novosti have posted a strange and vaguely threatening video showing the Russian segment of the International Space Station (ISS) breaking apart from the rest of it.
The ISS is one of the best examples of international cooperation between nations in the post-Cold War World. After the US and the then-Soviet Union (and then later, Russia) both aimed to create their own permanent Earth-orbiting stations, the two powers agreed to work together to create the space station, with modules for Russian and American cosmonauts and astronauts, as well as for use by Japan, Europe, and Canada.
For nearly 30 years, the agencies have co-operated — before SpaceX's successful astronaut launch from the Kennedy Space Center in 2020 the US had relied solely on Russia's Soyuz spacecraft to fly astronauts to the ISS for nine years — but tensions are once again rising due to events 420 kilometers (227 miles) beneath the astronauts' feet (or heads, depending on their current orientation).
Prior to the invasion of Ukraine by Russia, Roscosmos had already signaled its intention to detach its own modules from the ISS in 2024. However, in an ambiguous video, Russia has depicted the Russian segment departing from the ISS, in what space blog NASA Watch says is "clearly threatening the ISS program".
The video shows mocked-up footage of cosmonauts saying goodbyes to colleagues on the ISS, before climbing into the Russian section of the station. The Russian segment then detaches and watches the sunset, while jaunty music plays.
Tensions between Roscosmos and NASA have been rising in recent months, with Roscosmos head Dmitry Rogozin responding to US sanctions in February by tweeting "do you want to destroy our cooperation on the ISS?". The Twitter thread went on to threaten to drop the ISS on Earth.
"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?" Rogozin wrote. "The ISS does not fly over Russia, so all the risks are yours. Are you ready for them?"
The latest video, posted to Telegram, is unlikely to de-escalate any tensions or reassure NASA that cooperation on the ISS by the Russian space agency will continue. Last week, Roscosmos announced it was holding the OneWeb satellites to ransom, refusing to launch any of the constellations of low-orbit satellites until they received assurances that they wouldn't be used for military purposes and that the British government withdraws from the program. It also announced the end of any joint experiments on the ISS.
The US recently put forward extending the ISS through 2030 while various nations work on their separate future stations. What current tensions mean for the future of the ISS is unclear.