In crowd scenes in plays and movies, background actors in Russia are known to repeat the following tongue-twister when trying to feign conversation: “what do you talk about when there's nothing to talk about?” That phrase comes to mind when examining the latest effort by Kazakhstan and Russia to resolve a dispute over rocket launches at the Baikonur space center.
On February 8, a number of Russian-language outlets carried the news that Presidents Vladimir Putin and his Kazakhstani counterpart Nursultan Nazarbayev had basically solved the dispute, which appears to center on the price tag for a new launch pad at Baikonur - and who pays for it - during a meeting in Moscow. After the meeting, the Yandex newsfeed was full of headlines like “Putin and Nazarbaev Announce that Acceptable Solutions to Baikonur Have Been Found.”
The funny thing is that it is not clear whether Putin and Nazarbayev came to any agreement at all. The only substantive development to come out of the Moscow meeting was that Kazakhstan and Russia will set aside their Baikonur differences until the fall, when the Belarus-Russia-Kazakhstan Customs Union holds its scheduled meeting in Yekaterinburg.
“We gave the order regarding the preparation of a new Agreement on friendship and cooperation. I hope we will sign it in Yekaterinburg this fall,” said Nazarbayev during the February 8 meeting, as quoted by multiple Russian-language sources, all of which were ambiguous as to whether a new agreement would concern exclusively Baikonur, or whether Baikonur would be just one topic under a broader cooperation agreement.