Russia has agreed to give Kazakhstan S-300 air defense systems, as well as to share a Russian missile-testing range in the country with Kazakhstani troops, the two countries' defense ministers announced.
The S-300 gift had been announced some time ago, but nothing had been said about it for years, leading to speculation that Russia had rescinded the offer. But on a visit to Astana on January 31, Russian Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu said that Moscow would deliver five "divisions" of S-300PS (consisting of 12 units per division) this year.
The delivery is part of a larger plan to create a joint Collective Security Treaty Organization joint air defense system, which thus far also includes Belarus and Armenia. "As difficult as joint air defence ventures have proved in the CIS context, the development of joint air defence between Kazakhstan and Russia is now placed at the very heart of the bilateral defence relationship," wrote regional analyst Roger McDermott in a comprehensive 2012 report on Kazakhstan-Russia defense relations. And that "has implications for NATO cooperation with Astana and will also act as a barrier against the involvement of Western defence companies in this highly sensitive area of the Kazakhstani defence sector," McDermott wrote.
The other significant announcement was that Kazakhstan would be able to participate in tests at the Balkhash missile testing site, which is in Kazakhstan but had been operated solely by Russia. "We have come to terms on projects at the testing sites nearby Balkhash lake and the timing of joint operations there. We have to start getting personnel trained and extra equipment assembled and prepared for actual operations," Shoigu said. Balkhash, along with other Russian military and space sites in Kazakhstan, has lately become the target of environmental and nationalist activists in Kazakhstan.
As it often does, Moscow explained its policy in the region in terms of the potential spillover of instability from Afghanistan. Deputy Defense Minister Anatoliy Antonov told reporters that the discussions in Astana "were about deepening the integration processes in all spheres and, naturally, in the defense sphere... It's very important with respect to new threats and challenges which are emerging around the perimeter of our borders... We are now worried about what will happen after the withdrawal of allied forces from Afghanistan." It's unclear, however, what air defense systems in Kazakhstan might be able to do against drug traffickers and radical Islamists.