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.”
For Kyrgyzstan observers, reports that kerosene is being stolen from a Russian airbase and illegally sold on the open market will hardly surprise. But it is still embarrassing.
Last week Kyrgyz authorities formally began investigating why a truck stopped leaving the Kant Airbase last month was found carrying 13 tons of stolen kerosene.
Details about the October 7 incident that triggered the November 11 investigation are still scarce. The driver, who appeared to have entered the Kant base without documents, has not been identified in press reports.
It seems unlikely a theft from the heavily guarded base would be possible without the connivance of Russian soldiers stationed there, Ruslan Umarov, who is heading the investigation for the State Service for the Fight Against Economic Crimes, conceded on November 12. “We have a circle of suspects. Currently we are clarifying the market channels, buyers and suppliers. It is possible that military servicemen at the Kant Airbase are involved in the case,” Umarov is quoted as saying by several Kyrgyz news outlets.
Kant receives its kerosene, which it uses it to fuel fighter planes and other aircraft, from a Kyrgyz-Russian joint-stock company partly owned by Russian energy behemoth Gazprom: Gazprom Neft Aero-Kyrgyzstan. The company has friends in high places. Sapar Isakov, President Almazbek Atambayev’s chief foreign policy advisor, was formerly chair of the company’s board.
The suicides of two soldiers on two consecutive days have again highlighted festering problems in Kazakhstan’s armed forces.
One conscript hanged himself at a military unit Astana on April 4 while the next day a young private killed himself in a military unit in Karaganda by shooting himself in the neck, the Zakon.kz website reported.
Two 20-year-old privates were arrested on suspicion of driving the soldier in Karaganda, in northeastern Kazakhstan, to suicide by hazing – the practice of army bullying common in many post-Soviet militaries. The arrests suggest Kazakhstan’s military is starting to take hazing – a phenomenon that has for years been quietly tolerated – seriously.
Last June the commander of a border post near China was arrested with two other soldiers on suspicion of hazing after 11 conscripts deserted from the Tersayryk unit in northeastern Kazakhstan to protest their treatment.
In October a military court sentenced the commander to three years in jail and the other two soldiers to seven years each.
Kazakhstan’s Border Guard Service, which falls under the remit of the powerful KNB domestic intelligence service, has had a troubled year, starting with a bizarre mass slaughter in a remote outpost near the border with China last May that was blamed on rogue conscript Vladislav Chelakh.
A military conscript accused of a massacre at a border unit near Kazakhstan’s frontier with China has been found guilty and sentenced to life imprisonment.
Vladislav Chelakh was found guilty on nine charges including murder, desertion, stealing weapons, and damaging military property on December 11, Bnews.kz reported. His conviction followed a month-long trial during which he has displayed erratic behavior.
Chelakh, now 20, was arrested following a May massacre at the Arkankergen border unit in southeastern Kazakhstan. When military officials investigated after losing contact with the remote post, they found 15 people dead, Chelakh’s fellow border guards and one national park ranger. The border unit had been set on fire in an apparent attempt to conceal the crime.
Chelakh was found hiding in the forest and confessed, saying that military hazing had made him “flip.” He later recanted his confession, saying he had been pressured, and testified at the trial that his post had been attacked by “serious people” in civilian clothes. He said he had fled in terror and burned down the border post to conceal evidence in fear that his story would not be believed.
It might have been the Tajik president’s birthday, but Vladimir Putin got what he wanted.
As expected, defense talks dominated the Russian president’s October 4-5 trip to Tajikistan. Before Putin landed in Dushanbe, the future of Russia’s military bases in the country was the source of boundless speculation and conflicting statements from officials on both sides.
In the end, on October 5 defense ministers signed a deal to keep some 7,000 Russian troops stationed in Tajikistan through 2042. But Tajikistan’s president, Emomali Rakhmon, managed to save face, embracing a playful Putin and receiving some crucial support for his ailing economy.
Under the new agreement, the 201st Motorized Rifle Division in Tajikistan – Russia’s largest posting of land forces abroad – can keep its three bases “practically for free,” the Asia-Plus news agency quoted Putin foreign policy aide Yuri Ushakov as saying. Russia, in turn, promised to help modernize the Tajik military and accept more Tajik migrant laborers.
The current lease for the bases expires in 2014, when NATO troops are expected to pull out of Afghanistan. Moscow is concerned that resulting violence could spill over the long and porous border with Tajikistan.