Commentary: Russia’s space station withdrawal severs a significant link with the West

Given that the Russian modules are necessary to station operations, it’s uncertain whether the station would be able to operate without them. It’s also unclear whether it would be possible to separate the Russian modules from the rest of the ISS, as the entire station was designed to be interconnected.

Depending on how and when Russia decides to pull out of the station, partner countries will have to make tough choices about whether to deorbit the ISS altogether or find creative solutions to keep it in the sky.


The announcement of the withdrawal is the latest in a series of events concerning the ISS that have occurred since Russia first invaded Ukraine in February.

Russia’s decision to leave should not have a significant effect on the daily function of ISS. Like a number of minor incidents that have happened over the previous months, it is more of a political action.

The first incident occurred in March, when three Russian cosmonauts emerged from their capsule in yellow and blue flight suits that were similar in color to the Ukrainian flag. Despite the resemblance, Russian officials never spoke about the coincidence.

Then, on Jul 7, NASA publicly criticised Russia for apparently staging a propaganda photo. In the photo, the three Russian cosmonauts pose with flags associated with regions in eastern Ukraine occupied by Russian forces.

There have been no disruptions to the operation of the station itself. Astronauts on the station continue to perform dozens of experiments every day, as well as carrying out joint spacewalks. But one substantial effect of the increasing tensions was the end of Russian participation in joint experiments with European nations aboard the ISS.

With little information available about how Russia’s withdrawal will affect the use of its modules, in the short term, it seems likely that the largest effects will be on scientific experiments.