Russian Officials Not Keen on Turning Over Baikonur to Kazakhstan

It looks as if Kazakhstan could have a very long wait before it can take control of the Baikonur Cosmodrome and its adjoining city. A Kazakh proposal to gradually end the long-term lease that Russia holds on Baikonur is getting a chilly reception in Moscow.

“It will cause many issues, including social ones,” forecasts deputy head of the Russian State Duma’s commission on the CIS and compatriots Tatyana Moskalkova. She said that economic integration could assist in solving the problem. “If the EurAsian Economic Union were in place, those issues would not be that vital,” she explained.

Head of the State Duma’s commission Leonid Slutsky says the status question may be under discussion to the very end of the rent term between Russia and Kazakhstan, which is to 2050. “The format of the future joint exploitation is not in place, the terms are not clear,” he said. “Clearly, it (revision of the status)  is most likely to happen after expiration of the agreement, which is after 2050,” he said.

Kazkosmos Head Talgat Musabayev told Parliament last week that he wanted to end the lease early, with a gradual transfer of authority to Kazakhstan.

Russia leases the Soviet-era spaceport from Kazakhstan for $115 million per year. The city of Baikonur is treated like a Russian city, with officials in Moscow appointing the mayor and funding its municipal budget.

While transfer of Baikonur appears unlikely, Russia and Kazakhstan have revived a joint commission to review the matter. The commission was first established in 1994 but was disbanded five years later.

The commission will study implementation of the Russia-Kazakhstan agreement of 1994 on basic principles and terms of using the Baikonur cosmodrome, of the agreement on the rent of the complex of the same year, and of other Russia-Kazakhstan agreement, as well as other joint documents.

Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev has appointed First Deputy Prime Minister Igor Shuvalov as his nation’s chairman of the commission. Kazakhstan will also appoint a deputy prime minister to head the commission.

Oh, for anyone wondering what the EurAsian Economic Union is that Tatyana Moskalkova mentioned, you’re not alone. That sent me over to Google to do a little research.

The EurAsian Economic Union is a Russian-led free trade zone that includes a number of former Soviet republics, most of which have few prospects of joining the European Union or NATO. Its members include Balarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan. Nations with observer status include Armenia, Moldova and Ukraine.

Basically, if it’s a former Soviet republic that is run by a single political party headed by a strong man who hates political opposition, free elections and human rights, then you’re likely to find it in the EurAsian Economic Union. Having “stan” in its name seems to help.

The union, which was established in 2000, has very ambitious goals, but it appears that implementation is moving much slower than planned.