Kazakhstan and Russia Squabble over Rocket Crash Cost
A fresh space spat has erupted between Astana and Moscow over the cost of environmental damage from a Russian rocket crash on the territory of Kazakhstan – and who will pay for it.
After totaling the environmental damage from the July crash of a Proton-M rocket after it blasted off from the Baikonur spaceport in central Kazakhstan, Astana sent Moscow a bill for $89 million earlier this month.
At one meeting of the bilateral group investigating the crash, officials from the Russian Federal Space Agency, known as Roskosmos, “declared their readiness to discuss compensation” for any environmental damage, Kazakhstan’s Environment Ministry said on November 22.
After receiving the bill, however, Russia does not look keen to cough up. “We have received the report about the total for the damage,” Russia’s Izvestiya daily quoted Sergey Gorbunov, head of the Roskosmos press service, as saying laconically on November 27. “The space agency will be conducting its own expert evaluation on this subject. Its aim is to assess the correctness of the calculations cited. It can be a question of paying compensation only for proven damage to the environment.”
The crash boosted tensions between Moscow and Astana, traditionally staunch allies. Russia and Kazakhstan bickered for months over the cleanup of toxic waste and the accident sparked calls in Kazakhstan for the closure of Baikonur, which Russia relies upon for rocket launches at least until it opens its own facility in the Far East in 2015.
Space cooperation has not been smooth for some time: Last year Kazakhstan even threatened to pull out of the agreement under which Russia uses Baikonur, which Moscow leases for $115 million per year.
The latest row comes amid greater tensions in the relationship between Kazakhstan and Russia, in which Astana increasingly resents being treated as the junior partner. Last month President Nursultan Nazarbayev took the unusual step of publicly lashing out at Russia's imposing dominance in the Customs Union, a free trade zone that also includes Belarus.