RUSSIA HAS LONG PAID BAIKONUR BACK RENTS: KAZAKH MINISTER

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ASTANA, September 22 (RIA Novosti) - Kazakhstan has no more claims on Russia over its Baikonur space centre rent arrears now that 65 million US dollars has come into the host country's budget. Kairat Kelimbetov, Kazakh Minister of the Economy and Budget Planning, made the reassurance to a news conference in Astana, Kazakh capital.

The $65 million arrears dated to 1999 through 2001. A bilateral presidential agreement envisaged the back rents paid in kind with commodities at Kazakh discretion. After many attempts to implement it on varying practical patterns, the Kazakh government eventually demanded the rents entirely paid in money form to the host country's Treasury, the minister said in a retrospect.

Kazakhstan's Finance Ministry, National Bank and Kazakhstantemitzholy (Kazakh Rail) Co. signed a contract for ambitious joint imports from Russia. The Kazakh Rail was to make commodity purchases and transfer the said $65 million to the national purse in its tenge equivalent.

The entire sum reached its destination to pour into the national revenues in tenges, Kazakh currency, in two tranches-last January and February, confirmed Arman Dunayev, Finance Minister.

Russia has been renting Baikonur since 1994 at an annual $115 million. Rent payments started in 1999, as a bilateral agreement envisaged. The term was prolonged into 2064 early this year.

The Baikonur centre accounts for 65 to 75 per cent of launches on Russian space programmes. Russia inherited three space centres from the former USSR-Baikonur in Kazakhstan; Plesetsk in the Arkhangelsk Region's south, European Russia's north; and Kapustin Yar, Astrakhan Region in the lower reaches of the Volga. Plesetsk, for now European Russia's only acting space centre, initially was Strategic Missile Troops' base.

Baikonur found itself in another country as the Soviet Union collapsed. A decision was accordingly made on the Russian top to build another space centre, the Svobodny, in the Russian Far East's Amur Region. However, experts do not think Proton heavy booster rockets and manned craft can be launched from anywhere but Baikonur, whose vast opportunities allow 1,500 tonne freights launched annually, as against 500 tonnes for Plesetsk and 653 tonnes, Cape Canaveral, Fla., USA.

Baikonur alone copes with manned and cargo launches for the International Space Station, and maintenance of the GLONASS, global navigation satellite system. Russia is working on its international contracts-in particular, for Protons to orbit other countries' spacecraft-thanks to Baikonur, too.

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