Kazakhstan suspends arms exports for a year – The Diplomat

Defense Asia | Security | Central Asia

The decision was immediately presented in the press as being linked to the war in Ukraine, but we know very little about arms exports from Kazakhstan.

In a brief press releaseKazakhstan’s prime minister’s office announced that the country would suspend exports of all arms, military equipment and military products for a year.

Kazakhstan has not clarified the motivation behind the suspension, although many observers immediately looked to Russia’s war in Ukraine as a factor.

The decision came after a meeting of a defense industry committee during which the Ministry of Industry and Infrastructure Development submitted the suspension proposal.

Nur-Sultan is not a major arms exporter. Whereas SIPRI’s renowned databases on international arms transfers included data on imports over the past decade into Kazakhstan of everything from used transport planes from Ukraine, light helicopters from Germany and armored vehicles from Israel, the database had nothing to offer on Kazakh arms exports. The majority of weapons imported into Kazakhstan over the past decade naturally came from Russia.

Increasingly, Kazakhstan has sought joint efforts in the domestic production of military equipment. Earlier this year, the state-owned Kazakhstan Engineering and Turkish Aerospace Industries (TUSAS) signed a memorandum of understanding on the joint production of TUSAS’ ANKA unmanned aerial vehicle in Kazakhstan.

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The defense industry of Kazakhstan produces a range of military equipment from armored Vehicles at guns, grenades and protective equipment, although for home use. This summer, Kazakhstan announced it would increase its defense budget by 441 billion tenge ($918 million). Kazakhstan’s defense budget for the previous year was $1.7 billion, making this increase a significant additional commitment.

As with recent news of the suspension of arms exports, Kazakhstan’s defense budget increase has been filtered through the lens of Ukraine and Kazakhstan’s relations with Russia in light of the reluctance of Nursultan to express his full support for Moscow’s military actions.

Kazakhstan has taken a nuanced approach to the conflict in Ukraine, recognizing its own geographical and political position. Nursultan has sought to strike a balance between Russia and the West, maintaining regular diplomatic engagement with Moscow, including the Kazakh president Kassym-Jomart Tokayev goes to Saint Petersburg this summer to attend the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum 2022 but also stick to its decision not to recognize breakaway regions of Ukraine as sovereign. Similarly, Kazakhstan has pledged not to help Russia evade sanctions while not imposing its own sanctions and absorbing Russian companies seeking to relocate.

The Kazakh President recently met with Russian President Vladimir Putin on August 19, in Sochi, Russia. The two highlighted their strategic partnership, 30 years of relations, trade volumes and Kazakhstan’s chairmanship of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) this year. In mid-October, Kazakhstan will host the annual CIS summit in its capital, Nur-Sultanand Putin noted the upcoming CSTO military exercises that will take place in Kazakhstan, also in october.

Some have interpreted the suspension of arms exports as another blow to Russia, but it is not so clear that this is the case. It may be the opposite. According Euroactiv, for example, “The Russian press carried publications alleging that Kazakhstan was exporting arms and ammunition to Ukraine via proxies, on the orders of the United Kingdom.” Without more concrete information, how the decision is perceived depends entirely on the framing used and the rumors one believes.

The context of Kazakhstan’s domestic situation is perhaps overlooked by international reporting on the decision – violent protests in January necessitated a violent crackdown and prompted the Tokayev administration to request a CSTO deployment. This may be motivation enough to both increase the defense budget and cut exports to meet domestic needs first. Ultimately, we know very little about Kazakhstan’s decision to suspend military exports for a year and the practical implications of this decision.

Martin E. Berry