Nearly 100 members of both houses of Kazakhstan’s parliament appealed yesterday to President Nursultan Nazarbayev to close down the Kapustin Yar, Saryshagan, Emba, Azgir, and several other military testing ranges rented by Russia in Kazakstan, which total in area more than 11 million hectares. Baykonur did not appear to be listed. The appeal was made public at yesterday’s opening of a photographic exhibition in Almaty that documents the environmental, public health, and economic damage wrought to the country by Russian military testing. The chairman of the Foreign Policy and Military Affairs Committee of the Majlis (lower house of parliament), Sharip Omarov, announced yesterday that the Majlis intends to conduct hearings on this situation. (Interfax, February 4) The prime mover of this initiative is Senator Engels Habbasov, who last month described the damage suffered by those regions and their population in hard-hitting interviews in the Russian press.
Last October Kazakstan and Russia signed agreements on the lease and operation of most of these test ranges. The agreements are already being carried out, but may yet be thwarted if the Kazak parliament withholds ratification or demands changes. According to Nazarbayev and Defense Minister Muhtar Altynbayev, Moscow owed Kazakstan more than $100 million in rental and usage fees for those test ranges, not including Baykonur, as of the end of 1996. (Interfax, December 30, 1996)
Altynbayev announced last week that he will travel to Moscow this month in order to ask for the overdue rental charges or for the cessation of those unpaid Russian test-related activities. Russia pays part of the fees in the form of warplanes for the Kazak airforce and instruction of Kazak cadets and officers in Russian military schools. According to Altynbayev, Moscow has delivered 50 warplanes but still owes 30. Almaty, for its part, intends to reduce the number of Kazak students in Russian military schools because Kazakstan has opened its own military academies. (Interfax, January 28) However, Kazakhstan’s leverage is limited by the fact that Russian fees — whether paid or overdue — for the test ranges are counted against Kazakhstan’s own energy debts to Russia.
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