President Nursultan Nazarbaev has appointed Colonel-General Mukhtar Altynbaev to the post of commander of Kazakhstan’s air defense forces, in place of a retiring incumbent (Itar-Tass, March 24; Xinhua, March 25). Any holder of that post must enjoy full Russian confidence, in view of the existing integration of Kazakhstan’s air defense with that of Russia. Altynbaev was the defense minister of Kazakhstan until August 1999, when Nazarbaev dismissed him for “gross negligence” in connection with the clandestine sale of forty MiG-21 fighter planes from Kazakhstan’s arsenal to North Korea. The incident caused an international scandal, forcing Nazarbaev to sack several potential suspects in order to placate the United States, South Korea and Japan.
Last month, the Almaty military court rendered verdicts in the case. The court acquitted the Armed Forces’ Chief of Staff, Lieutenant-General Bakhytzhan Yertaev, who was second only to Altynbaev in Kazakhstan’s military hierarchy. Yertaev’s defense maintained that he had followed orders from his superiors in providing an escort for the planes sold, and was unaware of their North Korean destination. Those “superiors” were not named. The court sentenced the main defendant, businessman Aleksandr Petrenko, to two years in prison on some minor charges, amnestied him on the same day and released him from custody. Investigative leads pointing to complicity in Moscow were left unexplored (see the Monitor, March 24-25, 30, April 21, 1999, February 7). The court’s recent action, and now the president’s reappointment of Altynbaev to a high post, would seem to close the book on the sale of the MiGs to North Korea for good, in effect refusing to shed light on the affair.
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