Russians Up in Arms About Cancellation of Rocket Deal
AFTER months of tough negotiations with the United States, a Russian government delegation announced in Washington last week their decision to join international controls on missile technology and to halt an ongoing transfer of missile know-how to India.
The deal was hailed in Washington as yet another sign of Russia's growing partnership with the West. But back home it is being assailed as one more case of Russia yielding its national interests to American domination.
"If the contract is scrapped, it will be a national disgrace for Russia," parliament chairman Ruslan Khasbulatov, a rival of President Boris Yeltsin, told deputies on July 21.
"This issue ... has become a criterion for the independence of Russian foreign policy," declared a July 16 statement of Civic Union, a bloc of opposition parties. "The interests of the country are exchanged by those in power for the political support of the USA," the group charged.
The parliament decided last week to review the decision to join the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR), the international pact aimed at halting the proliferation of the technology to build ballistic missiles. It claims such an agreement must be ratified by the legislature.
The controversy over the contract to supply India with cryogenic rocket boosters, worth an estimated $350 million, has been raging since last year. The US claims the deal, particularly the supply of the technological information to produce such rocket engines, would enable India to launch not only commercial space vehicles, such as satellites, but military missiles. Both Russian and Indian officials have argued that the technology can be used only for peaceful purposes. No deal, no space station
Until recently the Russian government resisted US pressure to back out of the contract. But the US raised the ante, tying Russian compliance with the MTCR with promises to give the Russian space program access to the commercial satellite market and participation in the US program to build a space station. A planned June visit of Russian Premier Viktor Chernomyrdin was postponed at the last minute when negotiators failed to reach agreement on the India issue.
The Russian government's decision was announced by Yuri Koptev, head of the Russian Space Agency, on July 20 in Washington after a week of talks. Mr. Koptev said Russia would sign the MTCR and as a consequence revise its contract with India. Russia is prepared to supply India with ready-made engines but will not transfer any further technology or production facilities, Koptev said.
The main Russian partner in the India deal, Glavkosmos, the commercial arm of the Russian space industry, has objected to the announcement. Glavkosmos officials argue that Koptev did not have the authority to make such a decision, that the Foreign Ministry also did not have the right to alter the Indian contract, and they back the assertion that the Russian parliament must ratify the MTCR.
"We shall not stop fulfilling our obligations under the contract until there is a governmental decision to the contrary," Glavkosmos spokesman Nikolai Semyonov said.
The Glavkosmos official asserted that the company has already completed the transfer of about 80 percent of the technology involved. "Now they are ready to produce," he said. But according to a US diplomatic source, the cryogenic booster engines cannot be completed without the remaining technology. Not an official agreement
Anatoly Tkachyov, a spokesman for the Russian Space Agency, concurred with the Glavkosmos assertion that the Russian delegation in Washington did not have the authority to make a final decision. "The agreement in Washington was not signed but only initialed," he said. It must still be signed by Premier Chernomyrdin, who will visit Washington in August, and ratified by the parliament.
"The agreement was signed by authorized representatives of the Russian government," commented a senior US diplomat, speaking to reporters on July 22. "The question of ratification is really an internal one. As with all agreements carried out in good faith between governments ... we would expect the Russian government will do whatever is necessary to carry out that agreement."