There is every reason to believe that Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev’s talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin in the Russian resort town of Sochi on May 20 were highly successful for Astana. Putin generously offered his Kazakh counterpart Russian military equipment and, in what seems to be a rare windfall for Kazakhstan, agreed to buy Kazakh gas for $140 per 1,000 cubic meters, three times the current price. After his talks with Nazarbayev, the Russian president said the gas price had been the most difficult issue in the bilateral meetings, and it had not been easy to find a compromise solution in Sochi (Panorama, May 26).
It is hard to convince anyone that the Kremlin made these concessions just for the sake of maintaining brotherly relations with its next-door neighbor. The talks in Sochi helped Russia to eliminate one of the major hurdles in its efforts to attract Kazakh oil resources and reach an agreement with Kazakhstan on setting up a joint venture to develop the Kurmangazy oil deposits, which hold an estimated 1 billion tons of oil. Russia has long-term schemes for developing two other oilfields in West Kazakhstan. The joint Kurmangazy project, if it successfully materializes, will bring Kazakhstan an annual profit of up to $400 million. Moscow’s unusually flexible approach in gas issues looks more like a well-calculated political move than a goodwill gesture.
The Kremlin is alarmed at the growing energy ties between Ukraine and Kazakhstan and would hate to see Kazakh gas and oil flow to European markets through the Odessa-Brody pipeline and bypass Russia. On the other hand, Moscow might compensate for its losses incurred through purchasing expensive Kazakh gas by hiking the prices for gas exported to Ukraine. At any rate, the gas deal between Kazakhstan and Russia is not conducive to strengthening the nascent energy cooperation between Kyiv and Astana. By making some minor concessions to Astana, Russia’s Gazprom monopoly secures access to future oil and gas projects in Kazakhstan (Zhas Qazaq, May 26). Yet taking into consideration the upcoming Shanghai Cooperation Organization summit, it was surprising that the two leaders did not raise the question of shipping Russian oil through the Atasu-Alashankou oil pipeline. At the same time it is clear that the efficient use of the pipeline depends to a great extent on Russian oil supplies. Apparently, Moscow is contemplating on how best to use this situation to its advantage.
Simultaneously with energy expansion, Russia is set to step up its military and political presence in oil-rich Kazakhstan under various guises. The head of the Siberian Federal District of the Russian Federal Security Service, Lieutenant-General Igor Kurilov, told journalists in Novosibirsk on May 25 that 80% of illegal migrants entered Russian territory through Kazakhstan and that the Kazakh-Russian border was the country’s most dangerous trouble spot. The official spokesman of the Foreign Ministry of Kazakhstan, Yerzhan Ashykbayev, hastened to dismiss the comment as Kurilov’s personal opinion, “not worth inflating into a dispute” (Aikyn, May 26).
However, the Russian authorities’ plans to reinforce security along the Kazakh-Russian border were confirmed by army General Vladimir Pronichev, head of Russian Border Services and first deputy head of Federal Security Services, who announced that the border with Kazakhstan would be monitored by unmanned aircraft. Pronichev revealed that the Russian military plans to deploy around 400 army units in border areas starting this year. These troops will be armed with sophisticated technology and weapons. He explained that the need to deploy additional border troops was prompted by frequent border violations and crimes perpetrated by drug traffickers, smugglers, and illegal migrants (Panorama, May 26).
However, Russia appears to be using bilateral agreements regarding the development of energy resources and the need to protect oil and gas infrastructure from possible terrorist attacks to draw Kazakh security services into military operations against suspected Chechen separatists who might try to find shelter in Kazakhstan. Typically, spectacular extraditions of alleged Chechen fighters from Kazakhstan to Russia are timed to coincide with high-level bilateral summits. The talks in Sochi were no exception to this unwritten rule. The Federal Security Service of Russia and the National Security Committee of Kazakhstan (KNB) announced that they had carried out a successful joint operation that had led to the arrest of suspected Chechen fighter Selimkhan Sampiev (Liter, May 31).
The new border security campaign launched by the Russian military can be viewed as a prelude to the large-scale concentration of troops in border areas. For its part, Kazakhstan made significant steps to strengthen its security in the Caspian Sea. Recently the Kazakh Navy received three border patrol boats worth $2 million from the U.S. Department of State. The commander of the Batys regional border directorate, Abilseit Ashimbayev, said that since 1999 the patrol fleet in Atyrau on the border with Russia had doubled in number. Moscow repeatedly expressed “concerns” over Kazakhstan’s plans to create a naval fleet in Atyrau that would lead to the “militarization” of the Caspian region. But given the unpredictable situation developing around Caspian oil, Kazakhstan cannot rely solely on Russian military aid.