Proton failures and Russian-Kazakh relations

Almost immediately after a Proton-M rocket failed and crashed on Kazakh territory downrange from the Baikonur Cosmodrome last week, the Kazakh government moved to ban Proton launches from Baikonur. This isn’t the first time the Kazakh government has moved to ban Proton launches after an accident, in part because of environmental concerns associated with the Proton’s rather noxious mix of propellants, nitrogen tetroxide and unsymmetrical dimethylhydrazine. (The Kazakh government put a similar ban in place after the failure last year of a Dnepr, a converted ICBM that uses similar propellants.) Typically the bans are lifted after the investigation into the failure is completed.

An editorial in the Russian newspaper Vedomosti (via the English-language paper The Moscow Times) argues that—surprise!—the failure will also become an issue in Russian-Kazakh relations. The failure took place while the Kazakh president, Nursultan Nazarbayev, was not far from the impact site, and hence have also banned any launches when “the president is in an area falling under a rocket’s planned trajectory”. The editorial suggests that the Kazakh government may use the accident to revise the Russian lease on Baikonur, for which the Russian government pays Kazakhstan $115 million a year in rent. “These announcements look like they were made as a signal that the Kazakh government is getting ready to lodge some serious complaints with Moscow,” the editorial states. “The complaints will undoubtedly come with a price tag.”

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