Russia has agreed to write off Tajikistan’s debts in exchange for return of a Soviet-era mountaintop installation that can track missiles, satellites and even debris floating in space.
The Okno station, built in 1979 but abandoned during Tajikistan’s bitter civil war in the 1990s, uses powerful telescopes rather than conventional radars to discern space-borne objects as little as one metre in diameter up to 40,000km distant from the Earth.
Experts say the facility greatly expands Russia’s ability to monitor movements in space, and could become part of a future globe-girdling early warning system to protect the world from spaceward dangers, such as rogue asteroids.
The deal, signed by President Dmitri Medvedev on Monday, would liquidate $242-million of Tajikistan’s debt to Moscow. In return, Russia’s Space Forces will be handed full control over the facility, located in the Pamir Mountains not far from the Afghan border.
The remainder of the debt, about $60-million, will be applied to a Russian investment in a nearby hydro-electric station.
Tajikistan, an impoverished mountain country of seven million wedged between China and Afghanistan, is Russia’s strongest ally in former Soviet Central Asia.