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Power politics shifts to space: Russia ends cooperation with ISS

By Kashif Anwar

The development of the 1975 Apollo-Soyuz test project marked the beginning of an era of cooperation between the United States and the USSR, and later with Russia. During the Cold War, the United States and the USSR were engaged in a neck-to-neck competition to establish supremacy over each other, including in space. The launch of the International Space Station (ISS) on November 20, 1998, a collaboration of five space agencies and 15 countries, made science fiction a reality. With a strong US-Russian relationship in space, the United States ended its 30-year-old space shuttle program on August 31, 2011, allowing Russia’s Soyuz spacecraft to ferry astronauts to the ISS with modules and freight. For a long time, US-Russian collaboration in space was unaffected by geopolitics and kept the weaponization of space in check.

Russia-US ISS Cooperation and Window 2024

For a long time, the ISS remained remote from global geopolitics and was projected as the feat of global cooperation in space for the benefit of the human race. In 2021, the White House approved and extended the life of the ISS from 2024 to 2030, which all ISS partners approved except Russia. Yuriy Borisov, the head of Russian space agency Roscosmos, said Roscosmos would stop cooperating with NASA after 2024, ending a long history of cooperation between Russia and the United States in space. the ISS to operate beyond 2030 are strengthening their capabilities to ensure their major presence in the LEO.

Since the ISS is a joint project, it allows astronauts from other countries aspiring to space to board the ISS and conduct space experiments with the ISS, a combination of two space stations, namely the Russian segment and the American module. On the other hand, the appointment of Borisov as head of Roscosmos in place of Dmitry Rogozin is due to his inefficiency, especially with regard to the deployment of drones, and was visible during the war in Ukraine. The ongoing conflict between Ukraine and Russia has impacted US-Russian relations, with Europe bracing for an energy crisis, Russia under heavy economic sanctions, and now US-Russian geopolitics impacting the world. ‘ISS.

In recent years, space has become a new area of ​​power politics between the great powers and has been considered from a military and strategic point of view. China is currently working to establish the Tiangong space station, which intensifies the space race between the United States and China. On the other hand, Russia’s DA-ASAT missile test on November 15, 2021, a response to the United States Space Force and Space Command, created space debris in low Earth orbit (LEO); such developments have established two space rivals that the United States will have to contend with in the years to come.

The Ukraine-Russia conflict and a series of sanctions imposed on Russia by the West have politicized the ISS. In July, three Russian cosmonauts showed the flags of the Donetsk People’s Republic and the Lugansk People’s Republic to the ISS, prompting strong reactions from NASA and the European Space Agency. Josef Aschbacher, Director General of the European Space Agency, who says the ISS is a symbol of peace and inspiration to conduct research and prepare us for further exploration, has instead become a platform for play political or humanitarian crises on the ground.

On the other hand, recently we have seen private players like SpaceX in space exploration achieve phenomenal growth and become dominant private players in the world. In the current situation and Russia’s withdrawal from the ISS in 2024, SpaceX’s Crew-5 Crew mission and other similar missions and its cost-effectiveness will move NASA astronauts to and from the ISS and eventually reduce their dependence on the Russian Soyuz spacecraft.

On July 15, 2022, Russia and the United States signed an agreement allowing them to use the other spacecraft to send their astronauts to the ISS, which begins with SpaceX’s Crew-5 Crew mission in September. With Russia ending its cooperation with the ISS in 2024, the growth of private players in the United States for space exploration and the race between SpaceX, Blue Origin and others will be useful for the United States even after 2030 As the decision to withdraw from collaborating with the Americans to operate the ISS was given to Russian President Putin, it also ended the last area of ​​cooperation between the United States and Russia.

US National Security Council spokesman John Kirby says Borisov’s statement prompted the US to explore options. On the other hand, US State Department Ned Price considers Borisov’s statement an unfortunate development. For a long time, Russia has raised questions about the age of the ISS as it claims it has only compromised security measures and hopes to build its space station. The rise of SpaceX has not only cut into the money Russia has earned from flying NASA astronauts to and from the ISS; Western sanction, on the other hand, has had an impact on the Russian space industry. Thus, Borisov’s statement could be part of Russian maneuvers to bring the West to the table to obtain relief in exchange for an extension of the station’s operation.

In recent years, Russia has made no progress to develop its space station, and now, due to Western sanction, it has become difficult for Russia to build the Russian Orbital Service Station (ROSS). Meanwhile, such a withdrawal has not been officially notified to NASA, indicating that Russia has not terminated cooperation with the ISS. Robyn Gaten, ISS Director at NASA Headquarters, says Yuriy Borisov’s statement even reflects Russia having a similar US plan and thinking beyond 2030, as the US wants to develop a owned space station and commercially exploited after 2030.


With Russia’s proposed ROSS and the construction of China’s Tiangong space station, this shifts global power politics between the US, Russia and China into space. It is plausible that it will only divide outer space instead, necessary for the advancement of the human race, will be used to gain superiority and advance its military capabilities, in short, the militarization of the ‘space. With the arrival of new private players, this has lowered the total cost of space exploration, launching satellites and sending astronauts to the ISS. The United States should see Borisov’s statement as an opportunity to ensure that the West’s advance in space is secured to protect its interests on the ground and in space.

(The author is Associate Researcher, Center for Air Power Studies. Opinions expressed are personal and do not reflect the official position or policy of Financial Express Online. Reproduction of this content without permission is prohibited).