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Russia, Kazakhstan Extend Rental of Baikonur Cosmodrome - 2004-01-10

Russian President Vladimir Putin is in neighboring Kazakhstan, where he and his Kazakh counterpart agreed to extend a rental agreement for the Baikonur Cosmodrome. The two leaders are also discussing terrorism.

Moscow will continue to lease the Baikonur Cosmodrome until the year 2050. The two leaders described the space facility as part of a "spirit of partnership."

The agreement signed by President Putin and Kazakhstan's president, Nursultan Nazarbayev, makes no mention of any change in the $115 million annual fee that Russia pays for the use of Baikonur.

Kazakhstan has said the rent should be increased, but Russia says it is gradually decreasing the number of launches from the space center.

Built in the 1950s, Baikonur was where the first man was launched into space in April, 1961. It has sent manned missions to space by the Soviet Union and Russia ever since. It has taken on new importance in the past year by providing the only link to the International Space Station, since the U.S. space agency NASA grounded all of its manned space missions, after the Columbia shuttle disaster almost a year ago.

Baikonur has also been used increasingly for the lucrative launching of commercial satellites by other nations, in addition to Russia and the United States.

Kazkahstan inherited the cosmodrome when the Soviet Union broke apart in 1991. However, Russian personnel continue to run the facility.

For security and financial reasons, Russia has been making more use of another launch site within Russia proper for its military satellites.

The two presidents also discussed international security, especially problems related to the war against terror.

Russia's leading LUKOIL company also signed an agreement with Kazakhstan's main oil firm to explore Kazkh sections of the oil-rich Caspian Sea.