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№4 (237) 25 February - 10 March 2009

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Army:     Under our own roof?
On February 19 the Ministry of Defense announced a news that hit headlines. Kazakhstan is going to acquire in Russia 10 high end anti-aircraft systems S-300. It is quite embarrassing since Kazakhstan invests in weaponry at the height of economic crisis and Russia as our sources say won't give us any discount. The question is why our country decided to arm , when there wasn't any necessity to do it?

Sultan Akimbekov
Almaty

On February 19th the main debate revolved mostly around military issues. Pages of media were studded with the articles on weaponry. Amanjol Ospanov, the head of the National agency for operation of weaponry and arms of the Republic of Kazakhstan announced that in addition to the already mentioned air defense system S - 3000 the Ministry of defense plans to arm the Kazakh units with three new artillery munitions, which are produced by Petropavlosk machinery work in close cooperation with Israeli specialists. New reforms will be carried out . They concern modifications due to be introduced in training and grading system of officers. Pictures would look rosy if it were not for S-300 story.

Surface-to air defense system S-300 is one of the most sophisticated in the range of similar products. The system has never been tested during war but it has perfect characteristics and it is capable to protect vast area from air attack. It is the most successful invention ever developed and produced by Russians. In the past relations of great powers came under strain when a possibility for at least one country to acquire S-300 arose. In 1999 there was information leakage that Yugoslavia and Russian negotiated the terms of contract under which Moscow could export S-300 to Yugoslavia. It happened right before the US started air- bombing of the area. The US resented Yugoslavia's hogging of the modern sophisticated arms. Washington did its best to convince Bulgaria, Hungary and Romania to impose blockade on Yugoslavia. In 1998 Cyprus also attempted to buy S-300 in Russia, Turkey felt very uncomfortable about the idea and threatened to attack Cyprus from air in case it wouldn't stop negotiations with Russia on the issue. As a result S-300 was imported to Cyprus but deployed in Greece which received a right to operate the anti -aircraft system.

S-300 is also an instrument of geopolitics and political trade. Recently developed and S- 400 doesn't cancel all advantages of S-300 for potential importers of the system. In the war of perceptions, Russia sometimes succeeds. Russia spreads the rumor that it is going to supply S-300 to Iran and then denies a fact that information is got from the relevant source.

Iran is hunting for S-300. It is its main target. Now Tehran is closer to realization of its project than ever. The quantity of enriched uranium exceeds that necessary for continuation of the peaceful nuclear program. It is enough to fabricate two or three nuclear warheads. That is why Iran faces a challenge it has to defend its nuclear stations from air-strikes. The possibility remains that Israel might undertake an operation against Iran by itself, even alone. Recent large-scale Israeli air force exercises have strengthened this possibility. In the view of Israeli analysts the emergence of the nuclear bomb on the territory of Iran should be nipped in the bud.

Moscow is aware about it that is why it tries to get benefits in its constant rivalry with the West. Moscow maneuvers . The Kremlin is a reluctant to give a sincere answer and evades from the direct talks with the West, while conducting negotiations with Tehran and assuring its representatives that it would supply the arms when the right moment comes. Russia hasn't recovered from the last Georgian war and in harsh economic environment it is unable to demonstrate its military might to the West. The limits of its temporary victory became evident now. Russia's moments of glory had gone.

Moscow still nurtures the idea to convince Washington not to speed up NATO expansion and deploy anti missile systems in Czech Reublic and Poland on the illusory hope that the US president would take less harder line in its policies . Russia also can pull other serious trumps from its pockets. It appears that Russia has already employed financial leverages of control having promised its support to Kurmanbek Bakiev in the coming elections in Kyrgyzia. In this game Russia managed to get additional scores. Barack Obama faces a dilemma, if Washington is going to adhere to its anti terror policy it has to ensure its presence in Afghanistan. military bases on Kyrgyz territory are the key to success. From now on the US has to talk this issue over with the Kremlin. The meeting of Sergey Lavrov, Russian Minister of Foreign Affairs and that of Hillary Clinton the State secretary has been already scheduled for March . Summit of two presidents is due to be held in April. Two rounds of talks can bring tangible results. An attempt of Russia to sell its S-300 to Iran can make great damage to bilateral Russian American relations and deprive Russia of any advantages during future negotiations. Chances that Russia will decide to sell weapons that may protect Iran from air strikes are slim.

Tehran felt that situation has changed dramatically. On February 17 Mustaffa Mohammad Najara , Iranian Minister of defense arrived on the official visit to Moscow. Future supplies of S-300 will become the main issue due to the put on the agenda during future talks. It is highly probable that the contract on exports of S-300 has been signed and Iran would insist that Russia would execute it. The rumor has it that the contract is estimated at $800.

So the statement of Kazakhstani Ministry of defense about its intention to acquire 10 anti- missile systems has emerged just on time. In accordance with Russian and Iranian contract the new weaponry must be worth $1.6 billion. Even if the equipment is obsolete its price shouldn't be less than $1 billion. Recently , the government(usually it accounts only for 1% of GDP) revised the military budget downwards and no chance that all money allocated for military purposes can cover future expenditures of the Ministry of defense which decided to import Russian weaponry. What does Kazakhstan need such a large variety and number of air defense systems for? Ten artillery batteries plus two or three we own now allows our state to repel attacks of the sufficiently equipped and trained modern mobile army. No way such a rival will invade Kazakhstan in the foreseeable future.

There is a simple explanation for Kazakhstani desire to start a new cycle of rush of armaments with the invisible and non -existent rival: Iranian factor. Russia can't sell S-300 to Tehran that is why Kazakhstan volunteered to help its Northern neighbor. Moscow wants to preserve friendly relationship with Iran, to use Iran trump in the future rivalry with the West. Quite a strange coincidence that Kazakhstan decides to buy S-300, claiming that it is urgent, the very moment Iran representative arrives to Moscow for negotiations.

Moscow can state that it to give priority to its staunchest ally Kazakhstan, the main partner of Russia in CSTO and Eurasian Economic Community. Russia can attempt to convince Iran that it has been holding secret negotiations with Kazakhstan for quite a long time, but managed to reach agreement not such a long time ago. Russia couldn't take so many S-300 from nowhere to fulfill its obligations to Kazakhstan , without disarming its own regiments deployed in the central provinces of the country. There was no any sense in it. Russia can assure Iran that it executed its contract with Kazakhstan, under which it had to supply 10 anti -missile modern equipment to us. This is a good pretext for Russia to take time , postpone talks with Iran and save its face. Astana should count at least on any dividends after having rendering such a big service to Russia.



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