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Putin: Outlines Russian Space Plan

April 12, 2000

MOSCOW (AP) _ On the 39th anniversary of the Soviet Union’s launching the first man into space, President Vladimir Putin said today that Russia will keep up its commitment to the long-delayed International Space Station.

Putin told cosmonauts and space officials that Russia will keep its international commitments but that ``national production has to be our priority.″

The remark looked like a bit of diplomacy aimed at the supporters of the Mir space station, Russia’s aging spacecraft that just received a new crew after eight months of unmanned flight while Russia decided whether to scrap it.

In the end, Putin decided to keep the Mir aloft, adding to skepticism that Russia will be able to meet its obligations for the International Space Station, a multinational project that is months late because of Russia’s failure to build key components on time.

Putin also used the occasion to touch on one of his key priorities _ restoring Russia’s greatness after years of economic and political decline.

``The space sector is not only a prestigious sector which makes our country a great power, but it is also linked to economic and scientific development,″ Putin said.

It’s not clear where Russia will get the money to honor all its space commitments. After the Soviet Union collapsed, Russia drastically scaled back its space program, and so far the government has only earmarked about $120 million to the program this year.

Putin said the Russian Security Council would meet soon to discuss financing the space program.

On April 12, 1961, the Soviet Union stunned the world by putting the first human, Yuri Gagarin, into space. Since then, Russia has celebrated April 12 as Cosmonauts’ Day.

Putin accompanied cosmonauts and space officials today to lay flowers at the site on the Kremlin wall where Gagarin’s remains are interred.

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