As early as this summer, Russia and Kazakhstan may take a significant step towards the establishment of the first international uranium enrichment center. After his meeting with Vladimir Putin in Moscow in March, Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbaev announced: “We will start joint development of uranium deposits, joint uranium enrichment and the production of nuclear fuel.” The Kazakh leader invited his Russian colleague to visit Kazakhstan in return this summer. It is possible that the joint nuclear project will be confirmed not by words but on paper during this visit. Kazakhstan possesses approximately one-fourth of all uranium reserves in the world, and Russia has approximately one-half of the world’s enrichment facilities. Zarechnoe became the first joint venture for the production of raw materials. Russia has a 49% stake in Zarechnoe. It is planned that by 2009, Zarechnoe will produce 1,000 tons of uranium a year. The aggregate program of joint development of uranium deposits of Kazakhstan makes provisions for the production of 6,000 tons of uranium a year.
Meanwhile, observers noticed that the working visit of President Nursultan Nazarbaev to Moscow coincided with the submission of protocol agreements with Kazakhstan on military objects and testing ranges in Kazakhstan used by the Russian Defense Ministry to the Duma for ratification by Russian President Vladimir Putin. There are four such documents. The following documents were signed in 2006 during the official visit of Nazarbaev to Moscow in March:
– Protocol on amendments and supplements to the agreement between Russia and Kazakhstan on the procedure of use of the 929th state flight testing center (objects and combat fields located on the territory of Kazakhstan) of the Russian Defense Ministry of January 20 of 1995.
– Protocol on amendments and supplements to the agreement between Russia and Kazakhstan on conditions for use and rent of Emba testing range of January 20 of 1995.
– Protocol on amendments and supplements to the agreement between Russia and Kazakhstan on conditions of use and rent of testing range Sary-Shagan and support of activities of Priozersk of January 20 of 1995.
– Protocol on amendments and supplements between Russia and Kazakhstan on the procedure of use of the fourth state central testing range (objects and combat fields located on the territory of Kazakhstan) of the Russian Defense Ministry of January 20 of 1995.
Vladimir Putin thinks that the signed documents are important because “for nine years, Moscow and Astana failed to reach an agreement on the use of testing ranges on the territory of Kazakhstan for the needs of the Russian army. The relevant agreements were finally signed.” Sergei Ivanov, who signed these protocol, said that “the new Russian-Kazakh agreement makes provisions for reducing rent payments of military testing ranges by $3 million a year (from $27.5 million to $24.78 million).” At any rate, saving money is only one issue at stake. According to Ivanov, the agreement regulates the problem of renting land for testing ranges on the territory of Kazakhstan and clearly determines the real estate used by the Russian Armed Forces. Answering journalists’ questions about the attitude of Kazakhstan to a loss of $3 million of the budget revenues, Ivanov reminded them that Russia was selling armament and combat hardware to Kazakhstan at internal Russian prices.
Four military testing ranges that Russia rents from Kazakhstan represent part of the big unified military testing range that has existed on the territory of the USSR. The USSR has broken up, but defense tasks, including those connected with quitting the antimissile defense treaty by the US, remain vital both for Russia and Kazakhstan. For instance, the Sary-Shagan testing range (the tenth state testing range of the Russian Defense Ministry) is located on the territories of the Zhezkazgan, Zhambyl, Aktyubinsk and Kzyl-Orda regions of Kazakhstan. It is intended for the testing and research of armament and combat hardware for air defense and antimissile defense purposes.
Besides the tasks of developing and testing antimissile systems, Sary-Shagan also facilitates tests of Russian ballistic missiles in the interests of the Strategic Missile Forces and the Navy. A special route Kapustin Yar-Sary-Shagan was arranged for this purpose. Through this route it is possible to launch ballistic missiles for the penetration of antimissile defenses. At the terminal point of the route (Sary-Shagan) there is a measuring center with no true counterpart in Russia. It allows for the measurement of all characteristics of the tested combat blocks. According to specialists, the creation of a similar center on the territory of Russia will require capital investments equivalent to $15 billion in five to six years.
Thus, Russian-Kazakh cooperation continues to grow and develop. Kazakhstan helps Russia to strengthen the common defense space using the infrastructure of the airspace defense to be created in Russian Armed Forces. It is not accidental that at their meeting on March 19, Putin and Nazarbaev also discussed some international problems. Threats may impact the post-Soviet space, too. Hence, the Russian leader warns that Moscow, Astana and other members of the Collective Security Treaty Organization should always be ready to give adequate response to any developing threats.