The government of Kazakhstan has lifted the general ban it had imposed on Russian space flights from the Baikonur cosmodrome on July 6, when a Proton-K heavy booster rocket carrying a Raduga-1 military intelligence satellite exploded over the Karagandy region, spraying the steppe with toxic fuel and debris (see the Monitor, July 12-13, 15). Kazakhstan’s response measure resulted in grounding a Russian Proton rocket with a Progress cargo spacecraft destined for the orbiting Mir station and a Russian-Ukrainian Zenith rocket with an Okean research satellite. Described by Russia and Ukraine as crucial to the respective space programs, those two flights had been prescheduled for the second week of July.
While terming the ban temporary, Kazakhstan had made its lifting conditional on Russian fulfillment of a set of conditions. Most of those conditions were, however, not met or rejected outright by the Russian side as of July 15, when Kazakhstan authorized the resumption of all Russian missile launches other than those involving Proton-K. The Russian delegation, headed by Deputy Prime Minister Ilya Klebanov and Aviation and Space Agency Director Yuri Koptev, successfully stonewalled Kazakhstan’s demands during the week-long, tense negotiations in Astana. The unfulfilled Kazakhstani conditions involve four areas.
–Investigations. Kazakhstan demanded clarification of the causes of the July 6 crash and payment of compensation for the environmental damage. The two relevant investigations have only begun, the causes are far from clear, and the extent of the damage is in dispute. The Russian side promises to pay for the damage but describes it as negligible. The Kazakhstani side considers the Russian investigation superficial and fears that serious contamination has occurred, but lacks the capability to conduct a thorough investigation of its own.
–Flight authorization. As sovereign owner of the Baikonur cosmodrome, Kazakhstan demanded that it be empowered to authorize Russian space launches on a case-by-case basis, rather than being merely prenotified of the launches, as is currently required. During the negotiations, moreover, it transpired that the even the prenotification procedure has often not been observed by the Russian side.
–Fees. Because Russian commercial launches from Baikonur have multiplied dramatically since the signing of the 1994 rental agreement, Kazakhstan demanded the right to charge a fee for each launch from now on. The Russian side stood by the letter of the agreement in denying that demand.
–Rent. Russia, however, has never paid the US$115 million annual rent stipulated by the 1994 agreement. Kazakhstan had no choice last year but to agree with Moscow’s proposal that the rent arrears be written off as part of a mutual settlement of the two countries’ debts to each other. But the sides have been unable to agree on what each owes the other. The 1998 agreement required the Russian side to pay the annual rent in quarterly installments beginning in 1999. But Moscow–as the Kazakh side put it during these negotiations–“has not paid a cent yet.” Last month in Moscow, Kazakh Foreign Minister Kasymzhomart Tokaev raised the issue in vain with top Russian leaders. During the Astana negotiations, the Russian delegation offered three excuses: “No payment mechanism has been worked out;” the agreement has not been ratified; and Russia’s 1999 budget does not include any funds for the Baikonur rent. The sides ultimately agreed in Astana that Russia would (1) ratify “within five days” the 1998 agreement, (2) pay US$50 million in cash until the end of 1999 and (3) deliver US$65 million worth of Russian goods and services to Kazakhstan in the first quarter of 2000 as part of the 1999 rent. But the sides have not agreed on what goods and services would be delivered and how they would be priced. This arrangement, moreover, changes in Moscow’s favor the 1998 agreement: The cash payments have now become a mix of cash and soft goods, and the quarterly schedule is being stretched considerably.
The only silver lining for Kazakhstan is Moscow’s consent to launch the Progress spacecraft on a Soyuz rather than a Proton rocket. The Soyuz-Progress and Zenith-Okean launches are now scheduled to take place in the next few days. President Nursultan Nazarbaev and Foreign Minister Tokaev are currently on visits to Turkey and China, respectively; the actual extent of their involvement in the negotiations remains unclear (Habar news agency, Kazakhstani Television, Kazakhstanskaya pravda, AP, Reuters, Itar-Tass, Russian TV, ORT, July 12-15).
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