Political weightlessness: as Kazakhstan and Russia divided the Baikonur

This year the Baikonur cosmodrome celebrated the 60th anniversary of the first rocket launch. May 15, 1957, the Soviet Union undertook the historical start of a two-stage rocket. After disintegration of the USSR the world’s largest launch pad for space exploration was the subject of serious friction in relations between Kazakhstan and Russia. What do you think in Astana on cooperation with Moscow than unhappy and how they see the future of Baikonur? The answers to these questions are sought RFI correspondent in Kazakhstan Arailym Mendybaeva.

Between heaven and earth, Kazakhstan and Russia. For a quarter century, Baikonur is located in a “political weightlessness”. Built by the Soviet Union on the Kazakh soil after the collapse of the Soviet Union the cosmodrome came into the possession of the independent Kazakhstan. The economic situation, Moscow had to change the status of the tenant. Since 1994, the Russian Federation rents the Baikonur cosmodrome for $ 115 million a year. In 2004, Kazakhstan extended the lease term for the same amount for nearly half a century — to the year 2050. However, relations between the two countries at Baikonur is hardly smooth. The question of the rental value, gatilova catastrophe, the problematic modernization of the spaceport, as well as the legal status of Baikonur, the official position of the two friendly countries at times is very bad at hiding existing problems. Diplomatic notes and moratoriums sometimes turn into ultimatums.

Strategic object

Today for Russia, Baikonur is one of the largest working space launch in the world with an area of almost 7 thousand square kilometers. Since Soviet times many parts of the complex were closed. Now on the five Baikonur launch pads, three silo launchers and over 35 pre-launch and technical complexes. All a manned mission with a Russian crew on the International space station (ISS) will start from here. The Russian Plesetsk cosmodrome (due to less favorable geographic locations) and new East (due to technical difficulties such as the lack of additional launch pads of the same type, and also because of the mandatory approval of launches from the South slopes with Japan, South Korea and North Korea) for a manned space flight until the.

© RIA Novosti, Igor Ageenko | go to the banks of the”Dry export” the rocket “Soyuz-2.1 a” on the cosmodrome “East” in the Amur region

For Moscow, Baikonur is also a lucrative business. To 2016, Russia ranked first in the world in the number of commercial launches. In an average year, the Federal space Agency carries out more than 20 launches, many of which start from the cosmodrome Baikonur on the carrier rocket “proton”. In contrast to the United States and China, which beat Russia last year, Russian space Agency offers the lowest price on the market — about 50 million dollars per launch. The list of customers of the Russian space Agency for commercial launches is impressive: from European aeronautic defence and space company, aircraft manufacturers Boeing and Airbus to Japan’s Mitsubishi. However, over the last decade, the most practical rocket heavy class “proton” suffered dozens of launch failures and two major accidents with the proliferation of toxic heptyl fuel on the territory of Kazakhstan and the destruction of expensive satellites in the industry.

Emergency situations of the Russian space Agency became the reason for a two-month moratorium on launches imposed by Astana in 2007. In 2013 the situation repeated itself: immediately after the start of the carrier rocket “proton-M” fell near Baikonur. On Board were about 600 tons of highly toxic heptyl. Environmental damage to Kazakhstan estimated at 89 million dollars. However, the Russian space Agency defended its position on the safety gatilova accident. In the end, three years later, the negotiations of Kazakhstan and Russia ended without determining the amount of environmental damage.

Kazakhstan cosmodrome for Russia is the largest strategic object. To date, the greatest number of military bases of the Russian Federation in the “near abroad” is located on the territory of Kazakhstan. The total area of the seven major Russian polygons here exceeds 11 million hectares. Despite the official information about the disbanding of the military units in Baikonur in 2009, the complex is still listed as “fifth state test cosmodrome” the Russian defense Ministry. This means that theoretically possible from the Baikonur launching all types of missiles, including ballistic.

The fence from the Kazakh world

For Kazakhstan the current Baikonur is part of the territory of the country controlled by a foreign state. Space complex and the eponymous town in the South of Kazakhstan under Russian jurisdiction. For the period of rent of the cosmodrome Baikonur has the status of cities of Federal significance. Part 78-thousandth of the population — Russian citizenship. Currency and the security service in the city — Russian. The complex itself this year comes under the protection of the national guard of Russia. The fact that the head of the city administration is appointed by the presidents of the two countries remains rather symbolic moment. Although Baikonur is and the special representative of the President of Kazakhstan.

Subordinate to the Kazakh side is the border post that serves the airports of the spaceport and the mission of the Ministry of internal Affairs. Education in schools of Baikonur is on Kazakh and Russian programs. In 2015 six of the fifteen schools were transferred to the balance of the Ministry of education of Kazakhstan. In recent years, the Kazakh government adopted a program of development of Baikonur until 2050. But while the status of the city remains ambiguous. The concrete wall that fenced in the closed city of Baikonur from the rest of Kazakhstan — is proof of this.

Failed upgrade

Baikonur, Kazakhstan — it is also unmet expectations for participation in space projects. Extending the lease for Russia for nearly half a century for formal continuing value in $ 115 million in 2004, Kazakhstan could count on the joint modernization of the Soviet cosmodrome. At the same time was launched on Kazakh-Russian project “Baiterek” space complex for light and environmentally friendly carrier rockets “Angara” is gatilova “Proton”. However, after 11 years of unsuccessful efforts — Russia’s demands to increase the project cost almost 9 times (from 223 million to $ 2 billion), the delays of implementation of the Russian Federal space Agency for four years and reallocation of “Angara” on the construction of the East — the project was shelved.

According to Kazkosmos, made in the Senate in 2015, to abandon cooperation with Russia on the modernization of the cosmodrome in favor of the proposals of Ukraine or France, the Committee did not allow half-century lease. After a long intergovernmental negotiations, the completion of the new complex “Baiterek” and the creation of a Kazakhstani lightweight booster “Sunkar” was postponed to 2025. In the story while only a formal modernization of the Kazakh side has already spent 82 million dollars and a pretty vague term participation in space projects. Moscow announces expansion of cooperation with Astana to Baikonur. This official position recently on the court of the Eurasian economic community in Bishkek, announced the President of Russia Vladimir Putin. However, the reassuring tone of a complex bilateral relationships such statements is not yet attached.

“Kazakhstan needs radical overhaul to the Baikonur”

Today’s reality is very different from the situation in which Kazakhstan after independence gave Baikonur is leased by Russia, said in an interview with RFI Kazakh opposition politician, Amirzhan Kosanov. In his opinion, “we need a radical revision of relations of Kazakhstan to Baikonur”.

“Kazakhstan needs to decide to admit his error in using the spaceport to admit that having him at the mercy of Russia, lagging behind technologically. I say with full responsibility that the recent events associated with the Eastern spaceport, and the General development of all the military-industrial complex of Russia shows two things: first, it is technologically and scientifically behind, the second is the corruption inherent in authoritarian regimes. The world is developing. Elon Musk is ahead of the former Soviet Union, with its nuclear and space capabilities for years to come. Do we need such expensive content, is fairly archaic in usage, environmentally very dangerous. I think you need a political solution. But for that we need to solve the most important issue is the lease of Baikonur by Russia, which was signed on onerous terms. It was signed under Yeltsin, where did the figure of $ 110 million? When this money is now possible for two flights to get back.”

The opposite view is held by Mels Eleusizov, Chairman of the green party, a permanent candidate for elections of the President. The viability of Baikonur, he connects solely with Russia. The main cause of the uncertain future of the spaceport is the reluctance of Kazakhstan to develop the space industry, so in leaving Russia, Kazakhstan cannot manage Baikonur, said Mels Eleusizov.

“I had just fine to participate in all projects — academic and other — as part of the whole (space) complex. Kazakhstan had to develop everything, surely objection would be (from Russia) was not. Even with the departure of the Russian cosmodrome could live. Now Kazakhstan will not be able to manage this complex because all the controls are there — Russian. To be among space powers is a great authority. But it requires a contribution, which has never been done before, even in the “fat years”. Now the more one will not do it”.

A politician willing to challenge the President of the Union of scientists of Kazakhstan Orazaly Sabden. Former MP believes that the cause of the problem in the unilateral use of Baikonur by Russia is rather not in funding, but in playing the position of Astana in talks with Moscow. The Kazakh side, according to a political figure, is unjustified concessions in intergovernmental meetings.

“Willpower in the negotiation processes of our government why? Because maybe there are competent people there. More hung political will rather than professional competency. If there were scientists who practice… of the Individual there must be first and foremost. Why in this Commission Toktar Aubakirov not (honored test pilot, the first Kazakh cosmonaut, founder of the National space Agency of Kazakhstan — approx. RFI)?

© AFP 2016, Vasily MaximovДворники clean the area around the Soyuz rocket in Baikonur city

If the negotiations will sit a scientist, a leader of public opinion, the Russian Rogozin (Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin — approx. RFI) will not be able to say, “Mr. Sagintayev (Prime Minister of Kazakhstan Bakytzhan Sagintayev — approx. RFI), we will sell gasoline, fifth, tenth.” If there is no expert opinion, of course, they will “break”, I’m sorry. They’re thousands of threads associated with Russia”.

Speaking about the future of Baikonur, academician Orazaly Sabden sure that you need to seek a compromise solution and to further develop relations with Russia is not on a rental basis, and on condition of equal cooperation.

“To solve many problems (between Kazakhstan and Russia) need open a civilized dialogue. Now such a dialogue between the two countries. Each state has laws, there are inter-state agreements. The law is undeniable — our Baikonur. But whether we use the Baikonur cosmodrome in accordance with the same laws? Unfortunately, no. The benefit is Russia. Are we just supposed to sit around, to take land on lease? Unfortunately, it seems the feudal system of XVIII-XIX centuries. It is now the twenty-first century. We have talented guys, our (Kazakhstan) astronauts, we must use their potential.”

However, the desire of Kazakhstan to reconsider cooperation with Russia on Baikonur cosmodrome, even in the long term can be problematic, said the Kazakh opposition politician, Amirzhan Kosanov.

“I think that there is a market and geopolitical approaches are close because one of the priorities of foreign policy of the Kremlin today is, relatively speaking, “gathering of Russian lands”. Talking about it openly, it is felt, it is connected with policy in Ukraine, Transnistria, Abkhazia, with some very dangerous biased statements of some (Russian) politicians on Northern Kazakhstan. Therefore, I consider this together. One thing — the commercialization (the leading position of Russia on commercial launches of missiles in the world) that maybe will subside. Neo-Imperial ambitions of Russia concerning the preservation of influence in the former Soviet space — this is the credo of the current President Putin. I think that Baikonur will fit into this scenario, and the government (of Russia) will be, though, perhaps even some losses while investing money in Baikonur, to maintain its influence”.

Despite the current problems, one of the main challenges for the development of Baikonur Kazakhstan after the expiration of the Russian lease is the development of infrastructure in the city, with a population of 78 thousand people. At the end of 2016 by the Kazakh government approved the General plan for the development of Baikonur and surrounding settlements Toretam and Akay. 19 kindergartens, 11 schools, hospital, hospital complex, sports and shopping centers will be built at the expense of the Republican budget in three phases until 2050. However, whether to contribute to social programs to political issues is unknown. At least at the beginning of June, representatives of Kazakhstan and Russia will once again sit at the negotiating table. The fate of Baikonur will be discussed at the fifth intergovernmental Commission.