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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Russia Will Lease Cosmodrome

The State Duma voted Thursday to approve a deal according to which Russia will lease the Baikonur space launching site from Kazakhstan for the next 20 years at a cost of $115 million.


The vote removed an old stumbling block in relations between Russia and Kazakhstan, settling the Central Asian state's demands that Russia pay for the use of the site.


"We have no replacement for Baikonur," Yury Koptev, head of the Russian Space agency, told the parliament.


He explained that Baikonur was essential to the Russian space program because Plisetsk, the only space launching site inside Russia, lacked the necessary infrastructure and plans to build another cosmodrome were only in their initial stage.


Koptev said development of new launching facilities inside Russia would take 10 to 12 years and 4 trillion rubles (about $2 billion) to complete.


Besides, he added, Russia could not afford to lose Baikonur because it had $1.2 billion worth of foreign contracts for space launches from Baikonur and it would be easier to pay the rent to Kazakhstan than to lose the lucrative deals.


The deputies, nostalgic for the days when Baikonur belonged to Russia as much as any other Soviet republic, overcame initial reluctance and overwhelmingly approved the lease agreement.


"Baikonur was created by the whole Soviet Union," Communist deputy Oleg Mironov protested. "Why should we lease what we made ourselves?"


But in the end, even he was persuaded that Russia had no alternative to paying for what once was free, other than losing its status of a space superpower.


"The political reality is such that Baikonur, land, buildings, equipment and all, is the property of Kazakhstan now," Koptev said. He added that the rent would be paid out gradually and that Kazakhstan had agreed to accept Russian goods as part of the payment.


According to Koptev, 98 percent of the launches at Baikonur come from Russia, which depends on the launching site to send almost all its communication and television satellites into orbit.


Losing Baikonur would also have meant that about 60,000 people, mostly Russian cosmodrome personnel and their families, would have to move out from the closed city of Leninsk located near the launching site, Koptev said.