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NASA condemns Russia's use of space station for propaganda

The international space station
The International Space Station as pictured from a SpaceX Crew Dragon during a November 2021 fly-around. (Image credit: NASA)

NASA has issued a statement formally condemning a pair of images shared this week by Russia's federal space agency Roscosmos. 

The images show three Russian cosmonauts aboard the International Space Station holding the flags of two Russian-backed breakaway territories in eastern Ukraine that Russia invaded in 2014.

On Thursday (July 7), NASA released a statement through its press secretary in response to Roscosmos' anti-Ukranian propaganda. The full emailed statement reads:

"NASA strongly rebukes Russia using the International Space Station for political purposes to support its war against Ukraine, which is fundamentally inconsistent with the station’s primary function among the 15 international participating countries to advance science and develop technology for peaceful purposes."

Related: Elon Musk's SpaceX sends more Starlink terminals, power supplies to Ukraine

The director-general of the European Space Agency (ESA), Josef Aschbacher, rebuked Roscosmos as well, writing on Twitter (opens in new tab) today (July 8) that "it is unacceptable that the ISS becomes a platform to play out the political or humanitarian crises happening on the ground." 

"The purpose of the ISS is to conduct research & prepare us for deeper exploration. It must remain a symbol of peace and inspiration," the ESA chief added in the tweet.

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Likewise, the Canadian Space Agency emailed a statement today (July 8) that states: "The International Space Station partners continue to work together to advance space science and technology for the benefit of all humanity. That said, the Canadian Space Agency joins NASA in rebuking Russia for using the International Space Station, a beacon of peaceful cooperation, for political purposes to support its illegal war against Ukraine."

In the images released by Roscosmos, International Space Station commander Oleg Artemyev and cosmonauts Denis Matveyev and Sergey Korsakov can be seen smiling and holding the flags of the Luhansk People's Republic and the Donetsk People's Republic, two regions in eastern Ukraine that Russia has been attempting to wrest from Ukraine for years. 

The images were shared by Roscosmos (opens in new tab)' official account on Telegram and accompanied by a caption that stated "This is a long-awaited day that residents of the occupied areas of the Luhansk region have been waiting for eight years," according to a translation by Google. "We are confident that July 3, 2022, will forever go down in the history of the republic," the caption continues.

Fighting over these two areas, known as the Donbas, has increased in recent weeks as Russia's most recent invasion of Ukraine drags on. On July 4, Russian President Vladimir Putin praised the Russian military for "achieving victory (opens in new tab)" over the Luhansk region that is home to over 2 million Ukrainians. Despite this declared victory, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky stated that "Ukrainians are not ready to give away their land, to accept that these territories belong to Russia" in an interview with CNN (opens in new tab). "This is our land," Zelensky added. 

This latest propaganda campaign by the Russian space agency has unfortunately been a regular occurrence since Russia's invasion of Ukraine. Roscosmos chief Dmitry Rogozin has made numerous inflammatory public statements that have been taken as threats that Russia would leave the ISS program

To date, however, none of these threats has been followed with action, and international cooperation aboard the station remains strong

For now, at least, Roscomos' blatant propaganda remains just that. 

Editor's note: This story, originally posted at 12:03 p.m. EDT, was updated at 6:40 p.m. EDT to include comments from the Canadian Space Agency. 

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Brett Tingley
Brett Tingley

Brett is a science and technology journalist who is curious about emerging concepts in spaceflight and aerospace, alternative launch concepts, anti-satellite technologies, and uncrewed systems. Brett's work has appeared on The War Zone at TheDrive.com, Popular Science, the History Channel, Science Discovery, and more. Brett obtained a Bachelor’s degree in English from Clemson University and a Master’s degree in Rhetoric and Composition from the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. In his free time, Brett is a working musician, a hobbyist electronics engineer and cosplayer, an avid LEGO fan, and enjoys hiking and camping throughout the Appalachian Mountains with his wife and two children.