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Security Concerns at Russian Spaceport

James Oberg, veteran space shuttle Mission Control specialist the and renowned expert on Russian space program, reports trouble on the horizon as the Russian Baikonur spaceport faces future insecurity without a military presence.

Early last month, Lenin Square in Baikonur echoed again to the sound of marching military feet celebrating the 61st anniversary of the victorious end of the war against Hitler’s Germany. Russia’s famous space center was built by Soviet military forces fifty years ago, and since then they have operated launch pads, managed the infrastructure, and provided security. However, with the nearing of the end of the military withdrawal from the space center, this most recent parade will probably be the last ever: the soldiers, both technical troops and guards, are marching back to Russia.

Although they are to be replaced by civilian contractors, these military units leave behind a space center much more vulnerable to accidents by inexperienced replacements and to theft by the local population and by officials. More ominously, the declining physical security opens opportunities for malicious, even hostile actions by a native population with large segments growing more resentful of the presence of the Russian rocket center in the middle of their own country...

...Nor is the cultural landscape as featureless and benign as it also may first appear. Two years ago, Russian military security forces placed the cosmodrome on the top of its list of potential terrorism targets in Kazakhstan, and local government authorities have made several arrests of members of the Hizb-al-Tahrir “caliphate party”: fundamentalist Moslems whose influence has been growing in the area. Chechen rebel fighters, hiding out among their ethnic kin in Kazakhstan, have also been captured, but how many remain undetected is unknown.

As America's own space program relies in part upon the Baikonur spaceport, we have a vested interest in its security.

For more information about the author and space program-related news and topics, pay a visit to Jim Oberg's Pioneering Space.