The Russian military is handing Astana more than a million hectares of land it has been renting in Kazakhstan, which hopes to use the territory to boost its extractive industries.
During talks in Moscow on April 16, Russian Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu and his Kazakhstani counterpart Imangali Tasmagambetov finalized the deal that will see 1.6 million hectares of land that is part of two military testing grounds ceded to Kazakhstan, Russian news agency TASS reported.
“Unused territories and sectors where communications routes and mineral wealth are located will be removed from the lease and handed over to Kazakhstan,” Shoigu said.
The land is part of two military facilities operated by Russia in Kazakhstan: the Saryshagan anti-ballistic missile testing ground at Lake Balkhash in the southeast and a flight testing center in Aktobe in the energy-rich west.
“We have taken into account all the desires of the Kazakhstani side in removing the land from the lease,” Shoigu added.
For Kazakhstan, the deal reasserts its sovereignty over the territory and opens up the opportunity to build infrastructure and prospect for energy and mineral resources, just as Astana launches a program to increase Kazakhstan’s proven reserves.
“This agreement is linked to the economic interests of the Republic of Kazakhstan,” the country’s Ministry of Defense said in a tight-lipped statement. The land “will be used in the interests of the oil-and-gas sector, the construction of housing, railroads, and highways, and for other needs.”
Anatoliy Antonov, Russia’s deputy defense minister, said Kazakhstan wanted the territory to extract oil and mine gold and build infrastructure facilities such as roads.
Russia will continue renting the two testing grounds, and their new borders will not affect Moscow’s capacity for weapons and military hardware testing in the security interests “not only of Russia but also of Kazakhstan,” Shoigu said.
“We have nothing to divide, only things to create together,” he added, keen to stress there were no disagreements between the two military partners and fellow members of the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO).
Kazakhstan will lose $4 million a year in rent, which will drop from $23.5 million to $19.5 million – a small price to pay for land that may significantly boost the country’s energy and mineral potential.