When the Soviet Union collapsed, Russia suddenly found that its main rocket launch facility was situated in newly independent Kazakhstan. Since then, the two countries have periodically squabbled over the strategic Baikonur Cosmodrome. And now the Kremlin is pouring billions of dollars into a new site in the Far East that President Vladimir Putin says will allow Russia to remain an “independent” space power.
In the closed town of Baikonur, where the engineers live, the idea of Russia's departure does not sit well with locals, ethnic Kazakhs and Russians alike. “It will be a mess,” said Adilkhan Kulanov, a utility worker. “Everything works because the Russians are here.”
A student says she hopes her Russian university does not close its doors before she graduates. But already the town looks forsaken, not the kind of place that sends rockets into space. Residents complain about heating shortages.
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David Trilling is EurasiaNet's Central Asia editor.