Central Asian Armies: Russian made weapons and Kazakhstan – Russia relations

The present Central Asian states Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan, formed part of former Soviet Republic. The republics served as raw material suppliers to the Russian industrial centers. Thus, the agriculture and natural resources have always been the economic basis of development.

These countries face a broad spectrum of threats based on their peculiarities and therefore their military philosophies diverge among them. The divergence goes further in terms of resources and threat environments. In terms of resources, the poorest country in the region is Tajikistan, whereas the richest are Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan. Threats wise, ethnic related conflicts are the main source of instability in the region. Most of the countries face a risk of internal unrest that could lead to regime changes. Several countries from the region have territorial disputes with neighboring states. Particular concerns rise about the instability of Afghanistan spreading into the region.

Briefly, Kazakhstan has the biggest economy in the region with roughly 3% of the world’s oil, 4% of the world’s coal, and 15% of uranium. It also has the world’s largest reserves of zinc and lead in the top ten for supplies of copper, iron ore, gold and manganese. Kazakhstan solved the basic problems of delimitation of borders, having settled the majority of its issues with its neighbors.

Armed forces of the Republic of Kazakhstan

 The Armed Forces of the Republic of Kazakhstan and a Defense Ministry were proclaimed in 1992, after the fall of the Soviet Union (USSR). The Ministry of Defense is the central executive body caring out the defense state policy and managing the Armed Forces. The reforms of the soviet system meant that all military and paramilitary units (with some exceptions) would be placed under one commander for better command and control. Military branches include the Land Forces, the Navy and the Air Defense Forces. The legal minimum age for the compulsory military service is 18 years old, with the duration of 2 years. Kazakhstan army is currently transitioning to a largely contract based force.

After the fall of the USSR, large piles of weapons were inherited by Kazakhstan: approximately 1410 nuclear warheads and the Semipalatinsk nuclear weapon test site, the world’s largest anthrax production facility in Stepnogorsk, one soviet chemical weapons production plant in the city of Pavlodar, a number of intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) from the soviet missile complex and other production facilities and all sorts of other weapons. The entire list of weapons and facilities enumerated above were either dismantled or reconverted for civil usage.

Furthermore, currently, Kazakhstan still uses Soviet weapons, such as:  short -range ballistic missiles (SRBMs) OTR-21 Tochka-U (NATO: SS-21-B Scarab-B) and the R-300 Elbrus (NATO: SS-1C Scud-B).

In 2013, the “Creation of a Joint Regional Air Defense System” agreement was ratified by Russia and Kazakhstan.

Moreover, on several occasions, Russia exported S-300 surface-to-air missile systems to Kazakhstan or expressed its will to do so.

Russian made weapons and Kazakhstan – Russia relations

The critical foreign military link for Kazakhstan remains Russia (as the main source of military equipment and personnel training). The main known Russian weapon deals with deliveries or orders made by Kazakhstan for 2015 to 2016 were:


Ordered quantity Weapon description Ordered Delivered Delivered quantity
10 Mi-8MT/Mi-17 Transport helicopter

Mi-171Sh armed version used for border guard

2012 2013 – 2015 10
200 5V55U/SA-10C (export version, part of SAM S-300 family); Probably second-hand; aid 2013 2015 200
2 Project-10750/Lida

Mine Countermeasures Ships

2013 ~ 2017  
5 S-300PS/SA-10B SAM system;

aid as part of unified Russia-Belarus-Kazakhstan air defense network

2013 2015 5
4 Su-30SM FGA aircraft (NATO: Flanker-C) 2014 2015 4
4 Mi-35M attack helicopter 2015 2017 4
4 Mi-35M attack helicopter with the delivery scheduled for 2018 2016    
3 Mi-8MT transport helicopter

Mi-17Sh version for border guard

2016 2016 3

Additionally, a new contract for another 12 x Su-39SM FGA aircraft (NATO: Flanker-C) was signed in 2017 with Russia.  For comparison, other military orders/acquisitions during the same period were:

  • Canada – 4 x PW100 turboprop helicopter engines -delivered in 2016
  • China – 2 x Pterodactyl -1 UAV/UCAV delivered in 2016
  • France – 1 x Ground Master 400 air search radar delivered in 2014; 20 x EC725 Super Cougar transport helicopters ordered in 2012 to be assembled in Kazakhstan have a status uncertain.
  • Germany – 12 x ECI45 light helicopters assembled in Kazakhstan as KH-145 and delivered between 2011 and 2016.
  • South Africa – 10 x Marauder armored mine-protected vehicles delivered in 2016; several Mbombe-6 armored personnel carriers.
  • Spain – 2 x C-295 twin-turboprop tactical military transport aircrafts delivered in 2016
  • U.S. – 3 x Bell-205/UH-1 Huey-2 second-hand helicopters delivered between 2011 and 2016.

However, in parallel with the weapon acquisitions from external sources, Kazakhstan tries to develop its defense industry around the “Kazakhstan Engineering” National Company. There are “Memorandum of Understanding” agreements signed for:

  • production of BTR-4 (8×8 wheeled armored personnel carrier) with Ukraine;
  • production of Arlan (known as Marauder), the multi-purpose armored wheeled vehicle, in cooperation with Paramount Group South Africa;
  • maintenance for Cessna Grand Caravan 208B with Cessna Aircraft Company;
  • maintenance for Cobra wheeled armored vehicle with Turkish OTOKAR Otomotiv ve Savunma Sanayi A.S.;
  • assemble EC-145 helicopters under license with Eurocopter Kazakhstan Engineering;
  • gun powder production with Kazan State Gunpowder Factory (Russia);
  • certification procedures for maintenance and upgrading of Grad Multiple Artillery Rocket System and to increase its destruction range from 20 kilometers to 40 kilometers with Splav Federal State Unitary Enterprise (Russia);
  • production of Ground Master 400 radars with Thales Raytheon Systems;
  • the joint promotion of the MiG-35 multipurpose fighter and localization of production of separate units and units of MiG aircraft in Kazakhstan with MiG Russian Aircraft Corporation.

In addition, the newly adopted military doctrine from September 2017 might be seen as a subtle shift of Kazakhstan away from Russia in defense and security policy matters. The military doctrine constitutes the fundamental set of principles that guides military forces of a country as they pursue national security objectives.  The previous doctrine (2011) focused mostly on countering violent extremism and terrorism, whereas the new version is centered on armed conflict along the border and measures to mitigate it.

Although the document does not name Russia as a threat nor precisely identifies any major conflicts that could pose a threat, it significantly shifts the rhetoric and logic of country’s security agenda. Also, it introduces new concepts and threats, such as:

– the “hybrid” warfare seen as military threat to Kazakhstan’s national security;

–  the possibility of an outside force gaining control over Kazakhstan’s strategic resources and transport infrastructure;

– establishing special cyber-security groups within the Armed Forces and notes the need for enhanced training;

– creation of a national center for defense management as  centralized command-and-control system of the Kazakhstan Armed Forces.

Moreover, another sign of shifting, seen by analysts as an anti-Russian move is the latest change of Kazakhstan to Latin alphabet. The Russian language has equal status in Kazakhstan, but Kazakh is ascendant, and knowledge of it is mandatory for government jobs.


Published by Chamber of Commerce and Industry Romania-Turkmenistan

The Chamber of Commerce and Industry Romania-Turkmenistan (CCIRom-Tkm) is a non-governmental organization of public utility, autonomous and apolitical, founded in 2009 to promote the economic cooperation between Romania, Turkmenistan and other countries in the Central Asian region.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: