Despite rumors about the withdrawal of Russian servicemen from the Baikonur space station located in Kazakhstan near the Aral Sea, launches of the Defense Ministry’s satellites will continue. Russian Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov made this statement. In particular, he said that Russia does not plan to suspend launches of military satellites from Baikonur but intends to cut the strength of its contingent. Ivanov noted that Plesetsk is the main space center where military programs are realized. The defense minister said that Russia withdraws its servicemen from Baikonur because the share of military launches from this space center is insubstantial. Colonel-General Vladimir Popovkin, commander of the Space Force, explained how the Russian military contingent will be withdrawn from Baikonur. He said that, “the decision was made by the defense minister in August 2005”.
Popovkin said at a meeting with servicemen and civil workers at the Baikonur space station on October 7, “We will halve the strength of the contingent from 2005-07. Around 1,800 servicemen and 1,000 civil workers will remain.”
The commander said, “Around 2,500 servicemen and civil workers of the Space Force will be dismissed.”
This is a substantial number of specialists, and the Defense Ministry will have to solve many problems in order to make this withdrawal civilized. It’s no coincidence that the commander’s delegation consisted of officers of the Staff of the Space Force and the Defense Ministry in charge of relocating young officers to other military units, providing housing to dismissed servicemen, calculating military pensions and settling other matters.
Popovkin said, “The central department of the space center, the 8th department in charge of test launches of ballistic missiles and logistics units will remain after the redundancy.” He noted that cuts to the contingent’s strength will continue in 2008.
At present, the commissions of the Space Force pass over the Space Force’s buildings to the Russian Space Agency. It’s supposed that the Russian Space Agency will receive the Proton launch complex on site No. 81, measuring post No. 3, several silo-based launchers for ballistic missiles, workplaces for preparing satellites and some other objects. Next year the Russian Space Agency will receive several communication centers, three measuring posts and the processing center. The general previously stated that there are some questions linked with the lifetime of ballistic missiles. Popovkin said that launches of ballistic missiles carrying commercial satellites will continue until 2007 (one or two launches a year).
He noted in early September, “The military-space component will leave Baikonur at the end of 2007.” At present Popovkin says that servicemen of the Space Force will remain at the space station after 2008. No one knows what they will do there.
In the meantime, the issue of abolishing the space center in Svobodny (the Amur region) is not solved yet. As is known, it’s located on the same latitude with Baikonur. However, it does not have the necessary infrastructure. This is why it’s more profitable to launch satellites from Baikonur.
Defense Minister Ivanov recently told journalists, “We do not plan to abolish Svobodny but do not intend to make substantial investment in this space center either.” According to him, the Defense Ministry will need Svobodny for monitoring test launches of ballistic missiles.
He noted, “We currently launch only commercial satellites from this space center. We plan to launch a few more rockets in the near future.” On the infrastructure of the Svobodny space center, Ivanov stated, “This is a site with several launches. It has not become a real space center because of the absence of infrastructure.”
This means that Plesetsk will remain the basic military space center (the Arkhangelsk region).
The military are now building several new launch sites in Plesetsk. The Zvezdochka mechanical engineering enterprise recently passed over a new launch site for the Angara rocket to the Defense Ministry.
It should be noted that a similar complex will be built in Baikonur too. The Russian and Kazakh governments signed an agreement to create the Baiterek complex in Baikonur in December 2004. In other words, Russia plans to realize its major space projects both on its territory and abroad.