Kazakhstan’s President Nursultan Nazarbayev has placed Caspian security high on his agenda, not only as a means of promoting foreign assistance programs but also in generating further help from Moscow. On June 21 a three-day joint special exercise involving Kazakhstan and Russia, ended in the Caspian Sea. “Caspian 2006” was promptly hailed as a great success in the Kazakh media. However, underlying the urgency of developing stronger and more effective national units capable of protecting Kazakhstan’s economic interests in the Caspian, there also lie questions relating to Nazarbayev’s priorities in finding partners to support such plans.
The exercise itself involved personnel and equipment from the regional border guard directorate of the Southern Federal District, supported by subunits from the Interior Ministry, Emergencies Ministry, the Caspian Flotilla, and the Astrakhan maritime rescue coordination center of the Russian Federation Ministry of Transportation. Kazakhstan supplied forces from the Batys border guard directorate. The scenario involved countering terrorism and illegal immigration. The key security concerns in the Caspian justifying such high-profile exercises are terrorism, arms and drug trafficking, potential bio-terrorism, and the wasteful operations of many organizations that can cause damage to the ecology of the sea. Azerbaijan’s State Border Service and the Law Enforcement Force of the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps of Iran observed the exercises.
What was less obvious in the Kazakh media than in Russian reporting was that Nikolai Patrushev, director of Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB), initiated the exercise in cooperation with the Kazakh National Security Committee. Gennady Simukhin, deputy chief of the FSB Federal Border Guard Service, specified the purpose of the exercise: “During the exercise Russian and Kazakh border guard troops rehearsed joint actions to release hostages on a ship seized by terrorists and to help a ship in distress.” The underlying purpose was not just to cement further the existing bilateral security ties between Moscow and Astana, it also complemented intensifying Russian efforts to create a cooperative Caspian security structure (Interfax, June 21).
“To date we have concluded agreements to set up a collective border security system with all the Caspian states save Iran. In talks, an Iranian delegation that attended the exercise as observers expressed the view that it was necessary to set up a system of multilateral cooperation to protect the Caspian from transnational crime,” according to Simukhin. He believes that the Caspian 2006 exercises were an important step towards the formation of a “Casfor” joint operational coordination group. Bulat Kirgizbayev, a representative of Kazakhstan’s Border Service in Russia, assessed positively the results of the exercise saying, “The Batys border guard directorate of the Kazakh National Security Committee will in future take measures to increase the effectiveness of cooperation among all the Caspian states.”
Russian President Vladimir Putin defined border cooperation as a clear priority, with reference to the Caspian, after talks with Nazarbayev at the SCO Summit June 15-16 in Shanghai. “Border cooperation is an important asset. The Kazakh president and I have agreed to participate together in the work of the trans-border regions’ forum, which is to be held in Kazakhstan this October,” explained Putin (Interfax, June 17).
These developments in Moscow and Astana’s security relations are also reflected in recent Interior Ministry initiatives to strengthen Kazakhstan’s southern regions against organized crime and drug smuggling. Kazakh Interior Minister Bauyrzhan Mukhamedzhanov has highlighted the closer cooperation among police forces within the former Soviet Union. “Regular meetings between the heads of various subdivisions of CIS Interior Ministries, including criminal investigation departments, enable us to tackle specific issues. This also makes it possible to exchange experiences in crime detection and to introduce new methods of uncovering organized criminal groups, extremists, and terrorists,” added Mukhamedzhanov (Komsomolskaya pravda Kazakhstan, June 9).
Anatoly Vyborov, Kazakh deputy interior minister and chairman of the Committee for Fighting the Drug Trade, announced on June 21 that a Central Asian regional information and coordination center for fighting drug addiction and countering the drug trade would open shortly in Almaty. Vyborov explained that the new center would include officers and representatives from the Interior Ministry bodies of six countries: Azerbaijan, Russia, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, and Turkmenistan (Interfax, June 21).
Kazakhstan and Russia have obvious border area concerns in northern Kazakhstan, which could certainly provide justification for greater levels of border cooperation and intelligence sharing. Figures recently released show that in 2005 officers from the Northern Directorate of Kazakhstan’s National Security Committee seized about 1,250 kilograms of drugs, including 64 kilos of heroin. A total of 21 criminal cases were launched into these incidents, resulting in 28 persons being detained, six of whom were sentenced to prison terms (Interfax, June 21). However, Russia’s increased assistance to Kazakhstan in the Caspian border zone (western Kazakhstan) suggests an ulterior political agenda.
The role of the FSB in promoting and running Caspian 2006 and related ventures suggests that the security-assistance efforts in this area may be calibrated to achieve more than just one security goal. Patrushev may wish to utilize such bilateral activities to undermine the $100 million U.S. Caspian Guard program, designed to promote greater security in the Caspian region through working with the appropriate security bodies in Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan. Nazarbayev’s Caspian security deals are complex, pursuing cooperation with the West, while complying with Russian plans. Should he be drawn deeper into Russian-sponsored cooperative security arrangements for the Caspian, it may weaken Kazakhstan’s commitment to pull through with U.S.-led ventures.