A video released in early March depicting Russian cosmonauts waving goodbye as they leave U.S. astronaut Mark Vande Hei behind on the International Space Station is simply a joke, according to Russian officials.
“The Roscosmos television studio jokingly demonstrated the possibility of Russia withdrawing from the ISS project—the undocking of the Russian segment of the station, without which the American part of the project cannot exist,” according to the translation of the video’s caption, The Wall Street Journal reported.
Though Russian state-run media claims Roscosmos released the video on the messenger app Telegram, its origin has not been independently verified.
Regardless, state media confirms that it will not in fact leave Vande Hei behind when the crew is due to return March 30, despite a Fox News report that claimed Roscosmos was thinking “with everything going on, just leave him up there.”
“American astronaut Mark Vande Hei will return to Earth on March 30 aboard the Russian Soyuz MS-19 spacecraft, together with Anton Shkaplerov and Pyotr Dubrov,” Russian state news agency Tass reported. “Roskosmos has never given reason to doubt its reliability as a partner.”
Still, as international tensions continue to rise over Russian President Vladimir Putin’s decision to invade neighboring Ukraine in late February, this video is ill-timed, and NASA astronaut Scott Kelly ― who served on the ISS for a year ― hints that such a display is a breach of trust after two decades of international cooperation on the space station.
“It kind of enraged me that the country that we had been in this international partnership for 20 years would take the time to make a video to threaten to leave behind one of the crew members they are responsible for,” Kelly told The Wall Street Journal. “They agreed to be responsible for his safety, getting him to the space station and getting him home. For me, that kind of just crossed the line.”
Roscosmos raised concerns about continuing to participate in the joint space venture after 2024 given the tough sanctions that followed the Ukraine invasion, Tass reported.
“If, by the time our orbital station is deployed, we continue to live in this hostile world and the number of allies will be limited, then we will make it an applied- military station,” Roscosmos Director General Dmitry Rogozin said.
Sarah Sicard is a Senior Editor with Military Times. She previously served as the Digitial Editor of Military Times and the Army Times Editor. Other work can be found at National Defense Magazine, Task & Purpose, and Defense News.