Baku, Azerbaijan, Dec. 27
By Elena Kosolapova - Trend: Russia and Kazakhstan portray each other as staunch allies and assert they have mutual understanding on all the bilateral issues. However there are some long-standing problems on which the parties cannot agree. One example is the Baikonur Cosmodrome located in northern Kazakhstan and leased by Russia through 2050.
Baikonur played an important role in the history of space exploration in both countries. It was from these launch pads where the world's first orbital spaceflight Sputnik 1 and the first manned spacecraft in human history Vostok 1 were launched from. Meanwhile the cosmodrome remains one of the largest operational space launches facility and is an object of great interest for both Russia and Kazakhstan.
Russia needs this launch facility to remain a space power as it has no alternatives to Baikonur until it builds its own space facility in the Vostochniy Cosmodrome in Siberia, where construction is slated to be completed in 2018. The country pays $115 million per year in rent, operates the cosmodrome by its own and unlikely want to revisit the easing agreement.
Kazakhstan in turn wants to increase its control over the cosmodrome, develop its space industry through participation in its activity and open the spaceport for visitors to make the region more attractive for tourists.
Kazakhstan and Russia have very different views on how to operate the cosmodrome, an issue that has sparked a number of spats between two countries over the past year. In January Russia even send a note of protest to Kazakhstan after Kazakh National Space Agency's director, Talgat Musabayev, said Astana was looking to renegotiate the deal and pose limits for boosters launches from the cosmodrome. The bilateral squabble aggravated following Russian rocket Proton M exploded and crashed on takeoff on July 2 and spilled its toxic fuel over Kazakhstan's territory. The parties have not agreed on the cost of environmental damage yet. Astana sent Moscow a bill for $89 million. Russia did not agree with the sum and decided to conduct its own expert evaluation of the damage.
Remaining at Baikonur is an issue of geopolitical importance for Russia, Kazakh policy analyst Dosym Satpayev believes.
"Russia is considering Kazakhstan as an important region and will try to keep its control over Baikonur in the future even if it increases rocket launches from its own territory. Baikonur provided Russia with an opportunity of legal presence in Kazakhstan and it will unlikely be willing to leave the space infrastructure to other geopolitical players who can come there," Satpayev told Trend.
Meanwhile, Kazakhstan has not enough funds and specialists to develop the cosmodrome on its own.
"Baikonur is technically a complex and expensive project. If Russia withdraws from Baikonur, Kazakhstan will have to attract new investors to ensure its work," the expert said.
Kazakhstan negotiates with other countries on cooperation in the space sphere. However if any country ever replace Russia in Baikonur, Kazakhstan will probable remain just the cosmodrome's leasor as it has not enough space specialists to operate it, Satpayev said.
Thus the main task for Kazakhstan now is to get Russia's experience in space industry.
The countries signed a roadmap on joint operation of the Baikonur Cosmodrome for 2014-2016 on Dec. 24 during the visit of Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev to Moscow. Thus both Kazakhstan and Russia are interested in further cooperation, al least in short-term prospect. The subsequent fate of Baikonur will depend on parties' readiness to compromise and Kazakh-Russian bilateral relations in general.