Kazakhstan’s contribution to a Russian missile shield
On January 3, 2011, Russian General Staff chief Gen. Nikolai Makarov said the nation's armed forces intend by 2020 to field an "impenetrable" missile defence system. "The state will have an umbrella over it which will defend it against ballistic missile attacks, against medium-range missiles, air-based cruise missiles, sea-based cruise missiles and ground-based cruise missiles, including missiles flying at extremely low altitudes, at any time and in any situation," Makarov stated, specifying that although "this is a long process that requires a significant financial investment," fundamental elements of the system could be put in place as soon as this year.
In the meantime, Russia and Kazakhstan have recently agreed to establish a joint regional air defence shield, with Moscow pledging to transfer several S-300 air defence systems to its neighbour's armed forces. The S-300s are designed to protect administrative, industrial and military centers from tactical and strategic aviation attacks, and Moscow will deliver them to Astana at no cost. "We have agreed to create a joint regional air defence network, which is similar to that of Russia and Belarus," explained the chief of Kazakhstan's Air Defenses, Lieutenant-General Alexander Sorokin. Sorokin said his country would also like to buy Russia's advanced S-400 Triumf air defence systems, which can intercept and destroy airborne targets at a distance of 250 miles (twice the range of the US MIM-104 Patriot missiles), while Moscow welcomed its regional partner to use Russia's GLONASS satellite global positioning system and become involved in its early-warning system for detecting enemy missile launches.
The early-warning system, which Russia inherited from the Soviet Union, still includes some facilities located on foreign soil and in particular the Gabala radar station in Azerbaijan. The installation has been in the news with regard to the debate over potential deployment of US anti-ballistic missile and radar elements in Poland and the Czech Republic, since Moscow offered Washington to deploy elements of the missile defence complex in Azerbaijan instead of Eastern Europe. The Gabala radar, which was designed to detect missile launches as far as from the Indian Ocean, has a range of up to 6,000 kilometres and its surveillance covers Iran, Turkey, India, Iraq and the entire Middle East, allowing not only detection of the launch of a missile, but also to track the whole of its trajectory so as to enable a ballistic missile defence system to intercept an offensive strike.
In case Baku decides not to extend the leasing of the Gabala station, scheduled to expire in 2012, and especially if the US should not include Russia in the deployment of its controversial missile shield in Europe, the deal reached by Moscow and Astana could be the first step towards the improvement of airspace cooperation between Russia and Kazakhstan (which already allows the Russian Space Forces the use of the Baikonur Cosmodrome) and possibly the construction of a Russian missile shield in Eurasia. Such a step would strengthen Russia's position among its former "sister republics", since it would compensate for lacking air-defence measures of both the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) and the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS). The CIS air defence network currently has 7 air defence brigades, 46 units with S-200 and S-300 air defence missile systems, 23 fighter units with MiG-29, MiG-31 and Su-27 aircraft, 22 electronic support units and 2 detachments of electronic warfare, but efforts by the organization to protect regional skies have actually faced difficulties, partly because of incompatible strategies adopted by neighbouring Georgia and Turkmenistan.
The accord with Astana seeks therefore to compensate for lost time, and the chief of the Russian Air Force, Colonel-General Alexander Zelin, said Kazakhstan's plans to modernize its air defence systems "will be one of the most important factors of strategic stability in Central Asia". Although doubts on the economic and technological feasibility of a Russian missile shield with Kazakh participation arouse, one thing is certain: Russia is always more determined to regain control over the Caspian region, and Astana, despite its multi-vector foreign policy, is proving itself to be one of Moscow's most loyal allies. Since Kazakhstan is the ninth-largest nation in the world, with an area equal to the size of Western Europe, and holds about 4 billion tons of proven recoverable oil reserves and 3 trillion cubic meters of gas, the geopolitical implications of the increasing cooperation between Moscow and Astana are quite considerable.