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Kazakhstan: Military Establishment
Country Study > Chapter 12 > National Security > Military Establishment


At independence Kazakhstan had no army because defense and security needs always had been met by the Soviet army. Initially Nazarbayev, unlike many of his fellow new presidents, argued that his country should function without an independent army, assuming that collective security needs would continue to be met by armies under CIS command. Even when the Russian military establishment changed its oath of service to refer solely to Russia rather than to the CIS, Nazarbayev continued the policy of drafting youth into the CIS forces rather than those of the republic. Even though the republic's strategic thinkers saw Kazakhstan as the intersection of three potential military theaters -- Europe, the Near East, and the Far East -- in the first years of independence, the republic was thought to require only a national guard of no more than 2,500 men, whose duties were envisioned as primarily ceremonial.

When Russia transformed the troops on its soil into a Russian army in the spring of 1992, Kazakhstan followed suit by nationalizing the former Soviet Fortieth Army, which remained in Kazakhstan, creating the formal basis for a Kazakhstani national defense force.

Command Structure

The armed forces established in 1992 are subordinate to the Ministry of Defense and to the president in his capacities as commander in chief and chairman of the National Security Council. The second-ranking military office is chief of the General Staff. The General Staff consists of deputy defense ministers for personnel, ground forces, air defense, and airborne forces. The president's main advisory body for national defense is the National Security Council, which includes the prime minister, the first deputy prime minister, the minister of foreign affairs, the chairman of the Committee for Defense of the Constitution, the chairman of the State Committee for Emergency Situations, the minister of defense, the commander of the Border Troops, the commander of the ground forces, and the minister of internal affairs. When it is active, parliament has a four-member Committee for National Security and Defense for coordination of defense policy with the executive branch.

Force Structure

In the mid-1990s, plans called for developing a military force of 80,000 to 90,000 personnel, including ground forces, air forces, and a navy (for deployment in the Caspian Sea). In 1996 the army included about 25,000 troops, organized into two motorized rifle divisions, one tank division, and one artillery brigade. Attached to that force were one multiple rocket launcher brigade, one motorized rifle regiment, and one air assault brigade. Overall army headquarters are at Semey, with division headquarters at Ayagöz, Sary Ozyk, Almaty, and Semey.

According to national defense doctrine, Kazakhstan has a minimal requirement for naval forces. In late 1993, Kazakhstan received about 25 percent of the patrol boats and cutters in Russia's Caspian Sea Flotilla, which subsequently constituted the entire naval force. In 1993 naval bases were planned for Fort Shevchenko on the Caspian Sea and at Aral, north of the Aral Sea, but a scarcity of funds delayed completion. Likewise, naval air bases were planned for Aqtau and the Buzachiy Peninsula on the Caspian Sea and at Saryshaghan on Lake Balkhash.

In 1995 the air force included an estimated 15,000 troops. After the withdrawal in 1994 of forty Tu-95MS nuclear-capable bombers, the Kazakhstan Air Force was left with 133 combat aircraft, whose offensive capability relied on MiG-23, MiG-27, MiG-29, and Su-24 fighters with support from An-24 and An-26 transport and MiG-25 surveillance aircraft. Thirty air bases are scattered throughout the republic. Since 1992 Kazak pilots have received little air training because units have been staffed at only 30 to 50 percent of operational levels.

Officer Cadre

Creating the projected national armed forces has proved more difficult than expected. Since independence, the officer corps, which was overwhelmingly Slavic in the early 1990s, has suffered a severe loss of manpower. In 1992 nearly two-thirds of the company and battalion commanders in Kazakhstan had to be replaced as Russian-speaking officers took advantage of CIS agreements permitting transfer to other republics. When these transfers occurred, almost no Kazak officers were available as replacements. In the entire Soviet period, only three Kazaks had graduated from the Military Academy of the General Staff, and only two had earned advanced degrees in military science.

Kazaks have dominated the top administrative positions in the post-Soviet military establishment. In addition to Minister of Defense Sagadat Nurmagambetov, President Nazarbayev appointed two Kazak colonels as deputy ministers of defense and a Kazak general to head the Republic National Guard (the guard unit responsible for protecting the president and other dignitaries as well as antiterrorist operations). Kazakhstan's first National Security Council consisted of seven Kazaks, one Russian, and one Ukrainian. In October 1994, both Slavs left office and were replaced by ethnic Kazaks. Despite a secret call-up of officers in reserve, by the fall of 1993 Kazakhstan was short at least 650 officers, while the Border Troops Command, 80 percent of whose officers were non-Kazak, was understaffed by 45 percent.

Border Troops

Kazakhstan's extensive land borders are highly vulnerable to penetration by international smugglers, illegal immigrants, and terrorists. In 1992 the Eastern Border Troops District of the former Soviet Union was dissolved; this action resulted in the formation of the Kazakhstan Border Troops Command under a Kazak general. After this transition, overall control of border security remained with the National Security Committee, formerly the Kazakhstan Committee for State Security (KGB). The border troops commander is a member of the National Security Committee and a member of the Council of CIS Border Troops Commanders, which was established in 1993 to foster regional cooperation. Cooperation with Russia, with which Kazakhstan shares roughly half its borders, is the primary goal of border policy, and several agreements provide for Russian aid. Cooperative agreements also are in effect with the other four Central Asian republics.

Kazakhstan's border troops force is estimated at 5,000 to 6,000 personnel. Troops are trained at the Almaty Border Troops School (formerly run by the KGB) or under a cooperative agreement at four Russian facilities. Headquarters are at Almaty, with several subordinate commands, including a coastal patrol squadron headquartered at Atyrau on the north Caspian Sea coast.

Training and Recruitment

Exacerbating the severe shortage of trained military personnel is the virtual absence of higher-level military training facilities. The only two such schools in existence, the general All Arms Command School and the Border Troops Academy, both in Almaty, are capable of graduating only about 200 junior officers a year, and in 1993 three-quarters of those left the republic. There were also three military secondary boarding schools -- in Almaty, Shymkent, and Qaraghandy -- and a civil aviation school in Aqtöbe, which is to be converted to a military flight school sometime after 2000.

There are indications of severe problems in filling the ranks of the armed services. Some accounts indicate that as many as 20,000 soldiers were absent without leave from the army in 1993, and desertion and low morale among conscripts continued to be a major problem in the mid-1990s. Another concern is the deteriorating physical condition of inductees, one-third of whom are said to be unfit for conscription. Discipline appears to be problematic as well. In 1993 more than 500 crimes by soldiers were reported in Almaty Province alone; members of the Kazakhstani peacekeeping force in Tajikistan reportedly have robbed and raped villagers they were sent to protect. At the command level, in 1993 one general was dismissed for selling weapons and other military goods.

Data as of March 1996

Last Updated: March 1996

Editor's Note: Country Studies included here were published between 1988 and 1998. The Country study for Kazakhstan was first published in 1996. Where available, the data has been updated through 2008. The date at the bottom of each section will indicate the time period of the data. Information on some countries may no longer be up to date. See the "Research Completed" date at the beginning of each study on the Title Page or the "Data as of" date at the end of each section of text. This information is included due to its comprehensiveness and for historical purposes.

Note that current information from the CIA World Factbook, U.S. Department of State Background Notes, Australia's Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade Country Briefs, the UK's Foreign and Commonwealth Office's Country Profiles, and the World Bank can be found on

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