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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Duma Swaps Tajik Debt For Facility

The State Duma on Wednesday ratified a deal with Tajikistan that envisions writing off its debt to Moscow in exchange for handing over a Soviet-built space-tracking facility.

The Okno complex in Nurek is capable of automatically tracking objects that are 2,000 to 40,000 kilometers from Earth. The Russian Space Forces, which operate the site, say Okno offers a better range and precision than standard radar facilities.

The facility, located 50 kilometers southeast of the Tajik capital, Dushanbe, involves telescopes housed in several large spheres.

The Duma voted 320-12 with two abstentions to write off $242 million -- the bulk of Tajikistan's debt to Russia -- in exchange for the Nurek facility. The ratification must be approved by the upper house of parliament and signed by President Dmitry Medvedev -- a formality.

The Tajik parliament has already ratified the agreement.

Perched on top of mountains, 2,200 meters above sea level, Okno takes advantage of the area's fine weather and high transparency of the atmosphere, conditions not found elsewhere in the former Soviet Union.

The facility was designed to detect and track down satellites on high geostationary orbits, but it is also capable of monitoring even small fragments of space debris. It can spot an object 1 meter in diameter 40,000 kilometers away.

Each of Okno's powerful telescopes is covered by an 25-meter silver-colored dome covered with aluminum plates and special foam to reflect sunrays.

Russian officials said the facility could be used in the future as part of an international system to protect the Earth from dangerous space objects.

The construction of the Nurek site started in 1979, but stopped after the 1991 Soviet collapse, when Tajikistan slid into a five-year civil war that left its economy in a shambles and its population in deep poverty. The construction resumed in the late 1990s and the facility became operational in 2004.

About 25,000 Russian troops are deployed in Tajikistan to help protect its volatile southern border with Afghanistan and help stem drug smuggling.