Publication: Eurasia Daily Monitor Volume: 4 Issue: 85

Kazakhstan’s Defense Minister Daniyal Akhmetov recently described the country’s participation in the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) and its military partnership with members of the organization as priorities. “Kazakhstan’s new military doctrine clearly outlines issues of international military cooperation, in which a priority for the country is participation in the CSTO. I would like to say that our statement in the doctrine, which says that Kazakhstan will participate in forming a coalition within the CSTO by setting up necessary military groupings, has become absolutely a new thing for us,” he affirmed during a briefing on April 23 in Astana.

His comments suggest that Astana will concentrate more readily on the creation and development of formations with a role in the CSTO. In particular, it will enhance the combat readiness and training of Kazakhstan’s component of the Collective Rapid Deployment Forces.

Although Akhmetov highlighted that Astana attaches special significance to its relations with Russia and China, he also pointed to the inclusion in the military doctrine of the need to improve cooperation with the United States and NATO. International cooperation beyond the region means showing a willingness to participate in peace support operations, and in this sphere Astana is looking to the West for help in promoting the image and capabilities of KAZBRIG, the brigade-level peacekeeping formation based on KAZBAT. Akhmetov declared: “We have systematized in what format the Kazakh peacekeepers can act and operate. Taking part in peacekeeping operations, we can use our potential in separating conflicting sides and cordoning off neighborhoods, clearing a territory from mines, convoying peacekeeping operations, and giving global aid to the local population” (Interfax-Kazakhstan, April 23).

On April 22 Kazakh border guards seized poaching vessels with citizens of Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan on board. The interception in the Caspian took place as a result of a joint operation with Russia designed to interdict sturgeon poaching in Kazakhstan’s territorial waters, although Kazakhstan’s National Security Committee (NSC) took the credit for the success. “The Seymur commercial cargo vessel and a Kazanka-type boat with 27 Azerbaijani and two Kazakh citizens on board were detained with the help of border service helicopters,” according to the NSC press release (Interfax-Kazakhstan, April 23).

Yet, despite the image of success for border guards operating in the Caspian, Kazakhstan’s Border Guard Service continues to struggle with internal personnel problems. One border guard died as a result of beatings sustained on April 19 in Almaty Region (southeastern Kazakhstan) in military unit No. 2091. Such issues inspire little confidence in the ability of the authorities to deal adequately with the more pressing security problems facing the state, such as drug trafficking. However, even in responding to this security issues, it seems Kazakhstan is placing greater emphasis on cooperation with Russia and the CSTO.

Marat Tazhin, Kazakhstan’s foreign minister, and Nikolai Bordyuzha, the secretary-general of the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO), held discussions in Astana on April 24 about the future of the CSTO. Bordyuzha explained after the meeting: “The thing is that today our main task is to transform the CSTO from a military and political bloc into a versatile organization that is able to respond to any challenges and threats. In addition to improving the military component, we mean to deal with issues relating to forming a mechanism of collective reaction to emergencies, natural and man-made disasters, and to step up serious work on building joint capabilities to counter terrorist and extremist activities.” In other words, there are no plans to markedly change the structures within the CSTO, only to enhance their capabilities and maximize their ability to respond to threats.

Bordyuzha also spoke of stepping up CSTO efforts to stem drug trafficking from Afghanistan. “You know that we successfully carry out operations codenamed Channel every year. Now it is time to qualitatively change approaches to carrying out this operation and go for more profound approaches to cooperation among special services involved in countering drug trafficking,” Bordyuzha asserted. Kazakhstan’s NSC has promoted its image as an effective means of countering drug trafficking by staging a multi-staged operation code-named “Eastern safari,” which resulted in intercepting a transnational drug ring smuggling large consignments of Afghan heroin and opium from Tajikistan into Kazakhstan and Russia. “During the operation, a total of 10 kg of heroin and 60 kg of opium were seized from the illegal drug trade,” according to the press release. Cooperation between the NSC and Russia’s FSB will prove crucial at the bilateral level, but with greater political weight being placed on the CSTO there will also be pressure to strengthen multilateral intelligence sharing (Interfax-Kazakhstan, April 24). These plans will bring the intelligence agencies of the CSTO into closer practical cooperation on these security problems.

Despite the high priority placed on the CSTO, NATO remains on Kazakhstan’s agenda. On April 26 Akhmetov met the Dutch Ambassador to Kazakhstan, Klaas van der Tempel, in Astana, discussing elements of the new military doctrine as it relates to cooperation with NATO. The Dutch Embassy will be assuming the role of the NATO contact point embassy in Kazakhstan for the next two years. Both sides considered ways of improving cooperation and recognized that Kazakhstan has a valuable role to play in international peace support operations (Interfax-Kazakhstan, April 26). Nazarbayev will treat Kazakhstan’s relations with NATO cautiously, given the rhetoric from Moscow surrounding the deployment of components of the U.S. missile shield, as well as wishing to avoid jeopardizing any improvements to the CSTO’s security arrangements for Central Asia.