Publication: Eurasia Daily Monitor Volume: 4 Issue: 60

After years of touting successful military reform under the direction of former defense minister Army-General Mukhtar Altynbayev, Kazakhstan has announced plans to change the command structure of its troops. Daniyal Akhmetov, the current defense minister, plans systemic reform in order to bring Kazakhstan up to international standards; however, he made no reference to the implied criticism of his predecessor. Akhmetov’s recent public statements regarding military reform indicate the extent to which he is willing to depart from the Altynbayev era, modifying his claims that he will build on the “solid foundation” of the structural reforms carried out by Altynbayev and instead focus on implementing financial packages that will promote greater efficiency.

On March 20, the defense minister elaborated his views in Astana: “The command structure of troops is also subject to systematic change based on standards used in the world’s advanced armies. We expect that the structure of the Defense Ministry itself will change,” Akhmetov told Kazakh veterans. He wants to focus on the Committee of the Chiefs of Staff: “A body will be set up that will be called a combat training department,” within the structure of the committee, Akhmetov explained. The new command structure “will be based on the introduction of an automated control system and using the potential of high technologies and the concept of the regional command system of types of troops, even that of brigades will change.” This will involve deviating from the Altynbayev reforms, which had introduced regional commands and planned to place units and military formations on a state of permanent military readiness, which would preclude the need to mobilize, providing the basis of Kazakhstan’s army. This process should last until 2015 (Interfax-Kazakhstan, March 20).

Clearly, such an ambitious reform program must be achieved within fiscal constraints. Akhmetov has a level of confidence in this sphere that his predecessor never had. Budgetary planning will now concentrate on improving the standards of combat training. “That army will be stronger [if we] allocate 30% of its budget for combat training. These are the figures that we will aim to reach. I do not say that this will happen next year, but this will happen in subsequent years,” Akhmetov said. “We have already conducted analysis of this year’s budget and had found an additional 3,095 million tenge ($24.76 million) to improve the quality of combat training. In all 3,900 million tenge ($31.2 million) had been planned [initially to be spent on combat training]. This means that we found additionally almost the same sum to change the quality of combat training,” commented Akhmetov.

In some ways, the announcement will give hope to the beleaguered armed forces, weary of new reform initiatives and governmental talk over the years of promised improvements. Nonetheless, it also calls into question the whole military reform process in Kazakhstan, as well as the country’s capability to plan and attain the type of military and security structures that can protect the country. In short, after several years of tinkering with the structures in the armed forces, Akhmetov not only believes that they have failed to get the structure of the military right, he also considers that the only way ahead is to throw money at even more ambitious, and possibly unrealistic, reform programs. He predicates this upon the misconception that money alone will guarantee success: a highly dubious proposition, since the internal bureaucracy is resistant to transformation, and the government has evidently not yet decided what type of armed forces it really needs.

Such plans are being formulated in the context of deepening political ties with Moscow, rooted in economic interests and in particular energy cooperation. On March 19-20 President Nursultan Nazarbayev held talks in Moscow with Russia’s President Vladimir Putin to examine ways to develop bilateral ties and foster what Putin now believes to be a shared vision for CIS integration. Russia and Kazakhstan agreed on the creation of joint nuclear uranium enrichment centers and this will be worked out in greater detail during Putin’s visit to Astana this summer. “Our countries’ positions on the basic issues of reforming the CIS, developing the Eurasian Economic Community are concordant. We believe that the mutually beneficial integration of CIS countries can expand within the framework of the Eurasian Economic Community, followed by — possibly — the establishment of a single economic space,” Putin noted. Bilateral trade is continuing to develop quickly, growing by more than 30% in 2006 and both Putin and Nazarbayev defined the transit energy resources, efficient use of the Baikonur cosmodrome, and strengthening the exploitation of Caspian energy as key areas of future cooperation (RBK TV, Moscow, March 19; Kazakhstan Today, March 19).

Given the historic, cultural, linguistic, economic, and security ties between Russia and Kazakhstan, it is extremely unlikely that an ambitious military reform program will be conducted without input and assistance from Russia. But Moscow has little interest in Kazakhstan’s military and security structures becoming so effective that Kazakhstan can conduct its security policies without reference to Russia — even if it wanted to do so. Kazakhstan’s government has no definitive stance on the nature or needs of military and security structures, while Moscow has no vested interest in helping them reassess these needs. Talk of ambitious military reform programs in Kazakhstan will do nothing to raise concern in Moscow. Akhmetov’s reform challenges run deeper than he currently appreciates, though the early part of his ministerial posting indicates he has interest in making changes.