Publication: Eurasia Daily Monitor Volume: 3 Issue: 61

Kazakhstan has taken additional steps to improve its ability to supply its armed forces with armaments and to foster greater security independence as a consequence. Specific proposals include the creation of a helicopter factory as well as stepping up the manufacture of ammunition for the army. The ambitious plan to build a helicopter factory, added to the existing defense industries in Kazakhstan, will rely initially on Russia’s support for spare parts and expertise. However, there are indications that although this connection is bound to continue for several years, the target is to lessen dependence on Moscow (Kazakh TV First Channel, March 24).

Kazhyken Mayram, chairman of the Committee on Industry and Scientific Engineering Development under the Ministry of Industry and Trade, signaled Kazakhstan’s plans to develop more independence in the aviation sector, pointing to the growing demands for air defense contracts from the military. “In all 90-95% of the spare parts will come from Kazan in Russia and Kazakhstan will be supplying only five to 10%. Our goal is to produce half of the spare parts in 10-15 years,” Mayram elaborated. Kazakh specialists are actively assessing the current capacities of several factories in the country. The helicopters built at the new factory will be utilized in the future for both military and civilian purposes. President Nursultan Nazarbayev has promised to supply the armed forces with modern weaponry and technology and the political drive appears to lean in favor of domestic armament — in the long term. Sources within the Kazakh Ministry of Industry and Trade are openly talking about the need to reduce dependence on the supply of military technology from abroad, and this makes it logical for the government to prioritize domestic enterprises specializing in defense technology.

The Kazakh Ministry of Defense has confirmed an equally ambitious and far reaching plan for the domestic manufacture of ammunition for firearms. The Ministry wants to attract investors to support the project, which is expected to run into billions of tenge. Early forecasts, excluding running over budget, indicate the costs at around $19 million. Galym Orazbakov, head of the national Kazakhstan Engineering Company, announced in February that the firm’s plans include the implementation of projects worth 15.5 billion tenge by 2008. These will involve manufacturing 5.45, 7.62, and 9 mm ammunition. He said $19 million would be needed to fund this project (Interfax, March 24).

Such ambitious plans, entirely consistent with the Nazarbayev military reform program, may also be fuelling bilateral efforts to form security ties with Uzbekistan. Mindful of the possible risks attached to his armament and reform program, especially contributing to any suggestion of rivalry with Tashkent, Nazarbayev sought careful diplomatic planning in order to use the recent presidential visit to Uzbekistan (March 19-20) as an opportunity to allay fears and construct new arrangements with Kazakhstan’s neighbor. Although many of the bilateral accords signed during the visit have little to do with security, Nazarbayev said: “The situation in the region today, I think, requires the strengthening of cooperation in the military and technical spheres. I suggest holding a meeting between the two sides, attended by representatives from the two defense ministries, to discuss topical issues and introduce proposals. Our special services and special agencies should work in an environment of complete trust to fight terrorism and drug trafficking and other actions by extremists in our region” (Uzbek TV First Channel, March 20).

Nazarbayev wants to reassure his neighbor that his defense and security sector initiatives are only aimed at enhancing domestic and regional stability. Fortunately he found Uzbek President Islam Karimov equally keen to downplay regional rivalry. “There is no competition or struggle for leadership. Both of us simply do our jobs. However, sometimes, of course, the interests of our states do not match, but this is quite normal,” according to Karimov (Itar-Tass, March 20).

Both presidents have sensibly earmarked the Kazakh and Uzbek intelligence agencies and Special Forces as providing a basis for security cooperation in the fight against terrorism. Both Ministries of Defense will be exacting in their efforts to maximize positive publicity from bilateral contacts. There does seem to be potential for achieving at least a degree of security cooperation, but on terms that are mutually suitable, and perhaps not to the liking of the entire international community.

Improving the supply of armaments within the Kazakh armed forces, over a period of years, will have an effect on how the neighboring countries perceive Kazakhstan. Careful diplomatic maneuvers are already underway, as seen in the overtures Nazarbayev made towards Karimov. But the confirmation that during the next decade Kazakhstan will continue to look to Russia for spare parts for its helicopters can only reinforce Moscow’s role in Kazakhstan’s defense and security requirements. Meanwhile the Ministry of Defense must overcome the challenge of attracting sufficient investment for projects that the state seems determined to not fund, for the regime wants security as cheaply as possible.