Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)

Kazakhstan Special Weapons

Subsequent to its independence, Kazakhstan found itself owner of one of the world's largest nuclear arsenals. The weapons of greatest concern were the 1,400 nuclear warheads on SS-18 ICBMs that remained in Kazakhstan when the Soviet Union disbanded. Kazakhstan also had 40 Tu-95M long range bombers equipped with 320 cruise missiles. Although two other new states -- Ukraine and Belarus -- also possessed "stranded" nuclear weapons, the Kazakh weapons attracted particular international suspicion, and unsubstantiated rumors reported the sale of warheads to Iran. Subsequent negotiations demonstrated convincingly, however, that operational control of these weapons always had remained with Russian strategic rocket forces.

All nuclear weapons were out of Kazakhstan by May 1995. Kazakh disarmament activities included:

  • return of 1400 strategic nuclear warheads and 104 SS-18 ICBMs, as well as their support equipment to Russia;
  • eliminating 147 ICBM (mostly SS-18) silo launchers, launch control centers and test silos located at Zhangiz-Tobe, Derzhavinsk, Semipalatinsk and Leninsk;
  • closing and sealing 178 of 181 nuclear weapons test tunnels at the Degelen Mountain Test Tunnel Complex and 13 vertical test bore holes at Balapan;
  • dismantling 7 heavy bombers.

Kazakhstan's other military significance was as a test range and missile launch site. The republic was the location of only about 1 percent of all Soviet test ranges, but these included some all Soviet Union's largest and most important, especially in the aerospace and nuclear programs. Test sites included a range at Vladimirovka used to integrate aircraft with their weapons systems; a range at Saryshaghan for flight testing of ballistic missiles and air defense systems; a similar facility at Emba; and the Semipalatinsk Nuclear Weapons Proving Grounds, which was the more important of the two major nuclear testing facilities in the Soviet Union. In the four decades of its existence, there were at least 466 nuclear explosions at Semipalatinsk.

The other major Soviet military facility on Kazakh soil is the Baikonur space launch facility, the home of the Soviet space exploration program and, until 1994, Russia's premier launch site for military and intelligence satellites. Kazakstan and Russia debated ownership of the facility, while the facility itself suffered acute deterioration from the region's harsh climate and from uncontrolled pilfering. In 1994 Russia formally recognized Kazakhstan's ownership of the facility, although a twenty-year lease ratified in 1995 guaranteed Russia continued use of Baikonur.

Sensitive facilities inherited by military authorities from the Soviet army all are said to be on the point of collapse. Facilities in bad repair include nuclear test and storage facilities at Kökshetau, the BN-350 breeder-reactor at Aqtau, and a tracking and monitoring station at Priozersk.

Before the dissolution of the Soviet Union, Kazakhstan was the most significant site of military-industrial activity in Central Asia. The republic was home to roughly 3 percent of Soviet defense facilities, including more than fifty enterprises and 75,000 workers, located mostly in the predominantly Russian northern parts of the country.

A plant in Öskemen fabricated beryllium and nuclear reactor fuel, and another at Aqtau produced uranium ore. Plants in Oral manufactured heavy machine guns for tanks and antiship missiles. In Petropavl, one plant produced SS-21 short-range ballistic missiles, and other plants manufactured torpedoes and naval communications equipment, support equipment for intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs), tactical missile launcher equipment, artillery, and armored vehicles. There was a torpedo-producing facility in Almaty as well.

Chemical and biological weapons were produced in Aksu, and chemical weapons were manufactured in Pavlodar.

By 1994 most of Kazakhstan's defense plants had ceased military production. All of them required component parts from inaccessible sources outside Kazakstan, principally in Russia. Even more important, the Russian military-industrial complex was itself in collapse, so that Kazakhstan's military enterprises no longer could rely on Russian customers. In addition, the great majority of key workers at all these facilities were ethnic Slavs, the most employable of whom moved to Russia or other former Soviet republics. Substantial elements of Kazakhstan's military-production infrastructure remain in the republic.

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