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Kazakhstan Takes Control of Russian Military Testing Range

Tuesday 3 March 2015, by Nazar TAMASHEVSKA

Kazakhstan has reached an agreement with Russia to take over most of a Russian military training facility in far western Kazakhstan. The deal represents the latest step in Kazakhstan’s efforts to regain control over the many Soviet-legacy military and other strategic facilities that Russia still operates in the country.

Under the agreement, Russia will hand over about 90% of the Taysoygan testing facility near Atyrau, Senator Sarsenbay Engsegenov told Astana TV. President Nursultan Nazarbayev instructed the Ministry of Defence to work out the details of the agreement, which should be ratified by parliament by the end of March, Engsegenov said. There hasn’t yet been any comment from the Russian side. This follows recent agreements that Astana has made with Moscow to get more control of the Balkhash missile testing site and the Baikonur space launch facility.

According to the protocols signed in 2007, Russia is required to pay some $25 mln/year for the lease of four testing grounds and related research facilities totalling 10 mln hectares on the territory of the former Soviet republic. 23% of Russia’s 4th state firing range at Kapustin Yar is located in Kazakhstan. In recent years, Kapustin Yar has been the site of the official trials of the Iskander-M missile system, as well as tests of the S-400 (SA-20 Triumf) surface-to-air missile system. The 929th State Test Flight Centre, also known as Taysoygan or Vladimirovka, is comprised of three sections in Atyrau, Mangystau, and Western Kazakhstan regions. The territory is used to test combat aircraft and various types of weapons for all branches of the military. The Sary-Shagan test site was established in 1956 as the 10th State Scientific Research Testing Range of the former Soviet Union where anti-ballistic missile defence systems, air defences, and laser weapons were tested. It was the only Soviet ABM test site permitted under the 1972 ABM Treaty. The Emba testing grounds, subordinated to Kapustin Yar in 1998, is where the F300, Buk, Tor and Tunguzka air defense systems have been tested.

But that’s in the past, Russian officials say. “In recent years we haven’t done any kind of testing that could harm the environment”, said Aleksandr Zimin, a representative of the facility, in an interview with local media in 2011. “We use this area as an air polygon, only for flights – we don’t drop anything, don’t explode anything. […] I can say with confidence, that for the last three years nothing has fallen or blown up.”

In the Soviet era, the site was used for nuclear testing (it was reportedly subject to 24 nuclear explosions in the 1960s and 70s), and today residents still talk about the environmental impact.

In spite of the environmental damage, the area is thought to be rich pastureland, and though locals already graze their livestock there, they say being able to do so legally will be much easier. Probably higher on the agenda than livestock grazing: the fact that oil has been discovered in the area and Kazakhstan needs full control to be able to exploit it.

Modern Atyrau is famous for its oil and fish industries. It has 154,100 inhabitants (2007), 90% ethnic Kazakhs (up from 80%), the rest being mostly Russians and other ethnic groups such as Tatars and Ukrainians.

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