Kazakhstan may suspend the current agreement allowing Russia to use Kazakhstan's territory for its main space-launch center, Baikonur, the head of Kazakhstan's space agency has said. Currently, Russia pays Kazakhstan about $115 million a year to lease Baikonur, under an agreement scheduled to last until 2050. But it looks like Kazakhstan may be rethinking that agreement. From the AP:
Interfax-Kazakhstan news agency cited Kazcosmos head Talgat Musabayev as telling parliament that proposals are being considered to bring the Baikonur facility under Kazakhstan’s jurisdiction....
“The rent agreement on Baikonur adopted in 1994 has run its course. The head of state held talks with (Russian President) Vladimir Putin and has tasked us with formulating a new, all-encompassing agreement on Baikonur,” Interfax-Kazakhstan cited Musabayev as saying.
So why is Kazakhstan doing this? The AP notes:
It is unclear what is motivating Kazakhstan’s decision to push for a revision of arrangements on Baikonur, but it is known that it has been pushing for an increased role in the space industry.
Russia also has been moving to reduce its dependence on Baikonur, constructing a new launch facility in the Russian Far East. In a 2008 interview, Musabayev suggested that Kazakhstan was coming up with contingency plans in case Russia decided to leave Baikonur:
Presidents of our countries signed a lease agreement for Baikonur until 2050, so we hope that until that time Russia will not be leaving Baikonur. Kazakhstan has yet to receive an official announcement regarding Russian plans for further use of the Baikonur launch-site, in the wake of launching Vostochny spaceport in Amur region. Russia's plans for reducing its activities at the Baikonur cosmodrome have not been on the agenda of the talks with Kazcosmos, and have never been mentioned unofficially.
Naturally, under these circumstances we are planning to address Roscosmos with a question -- if it has plans to reduce its presence at Baikonur or mulls to warp up its operations there completely.
In accordance with the Russia's plans for Baikonur, we could draft our own program on using Baikonur facilities. We have a few options in store, but we can't reveal our plans now, as we are unaware of what Russia, our key partner, thinks of the issue.
So is Kazakhstan, as the AP implies, trying to take more control of its space industry? It's worth noting that this statement comes as Russia has been renegotiating a whole host of strategic facilities in its former satellite republics. (Also today, Azerbaijan announced that Russia has walked away from negotiations on the Gabala radar it operates in that country, on which more later.) What they all have in common: they show that Russia is increasingly unable to force these countries to accept the terms that were negotiated in the early post-Soviet days, and that these countries are getting increasingly bold about demanding terms favorable to them.
(Note: photo from this excellent photo essay about Kazakhstan's scrap dealers who salvage debris from Baikonur launches.)