Russia tightens control of troubled cosmodrome project

Construction of Russia’s nationally significant Vostochny Cosmodrome will come under even tighter state control following an order signed by Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev last week that gives the government authority to appoint and fire the project’s top managers.

"This decision will enable us to improve the efficiency of the directorate’s management and address the main problems in the creation of the Vostochny Cosmodrome," the government said in a statement Thursday, reported by The Moscow Times newspaper.

In September, frustrated at the pace of progress of construction at the country’s first heavy rocket-launching facility in Amur region of Russia’s Far East, Russia’s Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin took over personal charge of the project from Russia’s space agency Roscosmos.

Russia currently launches most of its space missions from the Soviet-era Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, from which it rents the facility for $115 million annually.

President Vladimir Putin declared the new spaceport to be a project of national importance in 2012. 

Since then, construction has fallen behind by about two months, jeopardizing the promised first launch from the cosmodrome at the end of next year.

Clouds darkened over the project even more in October when the former head of a company involved in building the cosmodrome was arrested and charged with embezzling 1.8 billion rubles ($43m) from the project, news agency Interfax reported, citing Russia’s Investigative Committee.

The Investigative Committee’s spokesman, Vladimir Markin, told Interfax that Yury Khrizman, a retired lieutenant general and former chief of construction firm Dalspetsstroi, had been nabbed after a probe into problems at the cosmodrome by Russia’s security service, the FSB, in coordination with the Investigative Committee and the state’s financial watchdog, the Audit Chamber.

Earlier this year Rogozin installed cameras throughout the vast construction site to spy on "slackers", who he claimed were impeding the construction efforts.

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