President Nursultan Nazarbaev says that, when he next meets Russia’s President Boris Yeltsin, he will press Russia to pay the $460 million it owes in rent for Kazakhstan’s Baikonur cosmodrome. (Russian agencies, Panorama [Almaty], March 13)
Russia has paid no rent since signing a lease with Kazakhstan in December 1994. Under that agreement, Russia leased the cosmodrome for twenty years, with an optional extension of a further ten years, at an annual rent of $115 million. (Itar-Tass, May 30, 1995) The price was a concession by Kazakhstan: According to international accounting standards, the value of Baikonur’s fixed assets would have warranted an annual rent of some $600 million during the twenty-year lease period. However, Almaty realized that it would have had difficulty finding paying customers other than Russia to keep Baikonur in business. Kazakhstan interprets the 1994 agreement with Russia as entailing a mutual cancellation of their debts. Moscow disagrees with that interpretation. It wants the Baikonur rent to be deducted from Kazakhstan’s debt to Russia. Despite repeated assurances from Yeltsin that his government will come up with a "financial solution," no payment has yet been made.
The two sides need one another. Kazakhstan does not want to lose highly trained Russian specialists and their equipment. Russia wants to keep using this cosmodrome capable of launching heavy proton boosters. Russia plans to launch eighteen such boosters this year alone, of which the most important — the "functional cargo block" providing the first piece of the new international space station, Alfa — is set to blast off from Baikonur in June. Moscow has decided to withdraw its military space forces from Baikonur in 2000, and use Baikonur only for civilian launches by Russia’s Space Agency. Russia’s commander-in-chief of Strategic Missile Forces, Vladimir Yakovlev, has said that, even though Baikonur’s launching facilities are 20 percent cheaper than Russia’s, in the interests of national security, all launches of Russian military spacecraft will be moved to Russia’s Plesetsk space center between 1998 and 2000. (Itar-Tass, February 6)
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