Moscow-Astana space symbiosis

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Kazakhstan and Russia have few reasons for discord, but Russian rocket launches are an increasingly sore point between them. In Kazakhstan's opinion, they often fall on its territory causing significant environmental damage.
(Dosym Satpayev for RIA Novosti) - Kazakhstan and Russia have few reasons for discord, but Russian rocket launches are an increasingly sore point between them. In Kazakhstan's opinion, they often fall on its territory causing significant environmental damage.

The recent crash on Kazakh territory of a Russian Proton-M rocket carrying a Japanese satellite has sparked a wave of speculation about the future of space cooperation between the two countries. This was the sixth rocket to crash in Kazakhstan since 1996, and it provoked the same flurry of assertions as previous incidents. The pessimists predict Russia's imminent departure from Baikonur, while others talk up Kazakhstan's ability to develop its own space industry on the basis of its space center.

The reality is quite different. The space program will continue - the next launch of a Russian satellite is scheduled for October - for the very simple reason that a radical reordering of the space relations is not in the interests of either state.

Such conflicts do not threaten interstate relations between Russia and Kazakhstan because neither stands to gain from them, either economically or politically. No political faction in Kazakhstan would stand to benefit by using this subject to discredit Russia in the republic. Even in the difficult 1990s, when anti-Russian attitudes yielded solid political capital in other post-Soviet republics, nobody in Kazakhstan was serious about kicking Russia out of Baikonur.

Kazakhstan is also fully aware of its inability to upkeep the expensive and intricate mechanism of the space center on its own. This is a matter of expertise, as much as money (the center requires huge expense just to maintain). Kazakhstan has neither the trained personnel nor the necessary research facilities to keep abreast of future developments in space.

In this respect the situation resembles that around the giant Kashagan oil and gas deposit, run by the Eni-led Agip KCO consortium. After accusing the consortium of delaying the start of industrial development, overestimating expenses and violating customs laws, the Kazakh leadership realized that the republic could not develop Kashagan single-handed. The consortium will therefore continue working in the country. At most, Kazakhstan might increase its share in the project through the involvement of its national company KazMunaiGaz.

Kazakhstan's own space ambitions are in fact a reason to step up cooperation, not end it. If Kazakhstan is serious about developing its own space technologies and training adequate personnel (and apparently it is), it will need Russian help. We should remember that the first, and so far only, Kazakh satellite was developed by the Russian Khrunichev State Research and Production Center.

Finally, Kazakhstan's ban on launches of Russian rockets applies only to Protons. Launches of Soyuz rockets will continue. Tellingly, from the beginning Kazakhstan has consistently laid the emphasis not on political statements, but on financial compensation. It appears that Astana will be happy to receive a huge fine (something in excess of $1 million) and assurances that similar accidents will not happen in future.

I believe that it will also suit Russia to pay the fine. It would be a much lesser evil than counterproductive political argument.

Dosym Satpayev is a political scientist and member of the RIA Novosti Expert Council.

The opinions expressed in this article are the author's and do not necessarily represent those of RIA Novosti.

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