Russians launch space deal with Kazakhstan: EU citizens resident in Britain miss today's registration deadline

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The Independent Online
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MOSCOW (Reuter) - Russia signed an agreement with Kazakhstan yesterday to rent the Baikonur space centre, heart of the old Soviet space programme, for 20 years at an annual cost of dollars 115m (pounds 79m), Itar-Tass news agency said.

The deal, allowing an extension for a further 10 years, was signed by Boris Yeltsin, the Russian President, and his Kazakhstan counterpart, Nursultan Nazarbayev, in the Kremlin. The Baikonur centre, in north Kazakhstan, had been a source of concern for the Russian space industry since the collapse of the Soviet Union.

All the Soviet Union's manned flights, since Major Yuri Gagarin became the first man in space in 1961, were launched from Baikonur. The base, though largely secret, was the pride of the Communist state. The future of the complex of launch pads and construction plants, which produces the Russian Buran space shuttle, had been in question since Kazakhstan's independence.

The uncertainty had affected morale in the adjacent city of Leninsk, built to house the workers of the space programme in the 1950s and 1960s. In early 1992, soldiers rioted at Leninsk in protest at poor living conditions, burning down several buildings.

The building of a new launch centre capable of putting cosmonauts into space would tax Russia's resources, though the military has said it would be feasible to build a new complex in the Russian Far East.

During the talks, the sides agreed that Mr Yeltsin will have operational control over Kazakhstan's nuclear weapons until Kazakhstan surrenders all its former Soviet warheads to Moscow for dismantling, AP reports.

'Time demands that Russia and Kazakhstan broaden their relations and better co-ordinate their actions,' Interfax quoted the Russian leader as saying at the opening of the meeting.