Watch video: Russia removes US, Japanese flags from rocket in Baikonur, retains Indian flag

While a purely symbolic move, it demonstrates how ties between Russia and the West have deteriorated over the last week, as Russia went ahead with its invasion of Ukraine over perceived threats regarding NATO expansion to include Ukraine

FPJ Web DeskUpdated: Friday, March 04, 2022, 10:50 AM IST
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The Soyuz TMA-9 spacecraft launches from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, on Sept. 18, 2006, carrying a new crew to the International Space Station | Wikimedia Commons

The Russian government's space agency, Roscosmos, has removed the flags of several nations, including the US and Japan, painted on a massive rocket readying for launch in the spaceport Baikonur.

But they did not remove the Indian flag.

While a purely symbolic move, it demonstrates how ties between Russia and the West have deteriorated over the last week, as Russia went ahead with its invasion of Ukraine over perceived threats regarding NATO expansion to include Ukraine.

The West has united over its condemnation of the aggression and has enacted broad economic sanctions against the nation. A financial fallout is already occurring with the ruble losing 20 percent of its value against the dollar nearly overnight, and which could fall even further as sanctions progressively excise Russia from the international monetary system.

The shockwaves created by these sanctions are likely to impact every strata of Russian society with far reaching consequences for the Roscosmos space program and the continued safe operation of the International Space Station.

The ISS has, from its start, been a joint US-Russian effort. Originally born from a foreign policy plan to improve relations between the Cold War foes after the fall of the Berlin Wall and the conclusion of the Space Race, the International Space Station would not exist if not for Russia’s collaboration. Soyuz rockets helped bring ISS modules into orbit and, following the Space Shuttle’s retirement in 2011, served as the only means of getting astronauts into orbit and back, at least until SpaceX came along.

Of the station’s 16 habitable modules, six were provided by Russia and eight by the US (with the rest sent up by Japan and the European Space Agency). Jus last summer , Russia successfully launched its largest ISS component to date, the 813-cubic meter Nauka science module.

Dmitry Rogozin, Director General of Roscosmos, himself still personally under sanctions due to the 2014 Crimea incident, voiced an alternative opinion in response to the news.

“Do you want to manage the ISS yourself,” he pointedly asked in a series of tweets Thursday. “Maybe President Biden is off topic, so explain to him that the correction of the station’s orbit, its avoidance of dangerous rendezvous with space garbage with which your talented businessmen have polluted the near-Earth orbit, is produced exclusively by the engines of the Russian Progress MS cargo ships.“

“If you block cooperation with us, who will save the ISS from an uncontrolled deorbit and fall into the United States or Europe,” Rogozin continued. “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?”

The “uncontrolled deorbit” remark appears to be a direct reference to Russia’s threat to not provide one of its Progress MS cargo ships to assist in the space station’s retirement at the end of the decade. On Saturday, Roscosmos dismissed all 87 Russians working at Europe’s Guiana Space Center in Kourou, French Guiana and suspended launches of the Soyuz-ST rocket from there in protest of the sanctions.

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