Two days after Kazakhstan's top space official suggested that the country was reexamining its agreement with Russia on the Baikonur Cosmodrome, the country's deputy prime minister sought to tamp down such speculation.
While Kazcosmos head Talgat Musabayev was quoted as saying the Russia-Kazakhstan agreement -- which is supposed to last until 2050 -- "has run its course" and that Kazakhstan was "formulating a new, all-encompassing agreement on Baikonur," Deputy Prime Minister Kairat Kelimbetov quickly sought to clarify Astana's position, that it was committed to the current agreement. Reports Central Asia Newswire:
“As you know, in 2004 [Kazakh] President Nursultan Nazarbayev and [Russian President] Vladimir Putin agreed to extend the term of the lease of the Baikonur cosmodrome until 2050,” state media reported Kelimbetov as saying.
“The Government of the Republic of Kazakhstan, of course, confirms the commitment of those arrangements. In October 2012, Presidents Nazarbayev and Putin instructed the intergovernmental commission to study the question of sharing the Baikonur cosmodrome and the following year to work out the appropriate changes to the regulatory framework of our cooperation.”
The story also notes the Russian press reaction to Musabayev's comments, which it describes as "explosive":
Russian media, including Pravda and Kommersant, has dismissed the threat as a low-level official posturing before the Kazakh parliament and does not believe the threat to preclude Russian use of the facilities to be viable.
Nevertheless, Musabayev's comments suggest that something is up. When news first broke about this, Alex Cooley, an expert on Central Asia and military base issues, tweeted some observations on Kazakhstan's move. He wrote the book on this, so I asked him to expand on his comments. (I asked before Kelimbetov's "clarification," but checked back after they came out and Cooley said his original comments still stand.)
The Bug Pit: Briefly, how have the post-Soviet agreements on strategic facilities differed from the usual pattern of post-colonial situations?
Cooley: A couple of ways: timing and trajectory.
First is the contrast in timing. In other post-colonial cases, the negotiation of decolonization often involved guaranteeing basing and access rights, usually by lease, to the former metropole. In cases such as the French-Algerian Evian Accords (1962) or the British transfer of sovereignty to Iraq (1932), Mauritius (1965) or Cyprus (1960), the guarantee of enduring basing rights was inserted into actual independence negotiations and even nascent Constitutions. Incidentally, the same was true in the US granting of independence to Cuba, Panama and the Philippines -- US officials secured basing access and strategic rights as a main prerequisite to granting independence to these states.
In the post-Soviet case, the unraveling of the Soviet Union happened rapidly so these types of agreements were not part of the actual foundation of these independent states. Russia and the successor states had to subsequently establish procedures to deal with governing the "wreckage" of the Soviet empire. The general principle they followed was that the post-Soviet states would broadly retain legal ownership of important Soviet era assets on their territories, but in special cases of non-substituble assets Russia would be allowed to use them. But the precise details governing the actual use of the most important installations such as the Black Sea Fleet (1997) and Baikonour cosmodrome (1994) had to be hammered out. The Russian military presence in Tajikistan was only legally codified as a formal overseas base in 2004 and renewed this year.
Second, for most of the post-colonial cases, these agreements either were terminated early (Algeria, Tunisia) or were subsequently renegotiated. In the case of renegotiation, host countries usually demanded a higher quid pro quo, a shorter new lease duration, and more sovereign control over these facilities. However, in the cases of the renewals of the BSF (2010), Baikonur (2004) and Tajikistan (2012) we actually saw the granting of longer leases, no increase in official quid pro quo and little change in the sovereign status of these assets. The emerging exception seems to be Gabala, where the Azeris held out for a $300 million annual payments (they had been receiving $7 million) and the Russians just announced that they would walk away.
BP:Has there been anything unique (in the post-Soviet context) about the Russia-Kazakhstan agreement on Baikonur?
AC:The Baikonur agreement's quid pro quo -- $115 million in an annual lease payment -- was the largest of all such deals, though much of it was written off from Kazakhstan's bilateral debt to Russia. Also the arrangement that transferred control over the city of Baikonur to Russia was a distinct arrangement. In Sevastopol, by contrast, BSF-related facilities were designated as exclusively Russian, Ukrainian or dual use, but the main city itself has always remained Ukrainian.
BP:What would you guess may be behind Kazakhstan's suggestion that it may break this agreement?
AC:The timing is interesting, given that this is happening after a relatively smooth and non-acrimonious re-up in 2004, but I can't say for sure. Some speculate that reversion is of important symbolic value to Nazarbayev, especially as he pursues more formal integration with Russia in the economic sphere. Others see a shrinking window of opportunity for the Kazakhs to take advantage of running the facility, before Russia starts launching from the new Vostochny site and Plesetsk (both in Russia). Perhaps the Kazakhs feel they can also attract additional customers for launches and want a more lucrative compensation formula based on revenue-sharing rather than a set lease. But we're just speculating at this point.