*Nazarbayev Purges Army of Corrupt Top Brass*

One month after the dismissal of Kazakhstan's Defense Minister Daniyal
Akhmetov by presidential decree on June 17, persistent rumors are still
circulating about his alleged suicide.

Unconfirmed reports in some media outlets suggest that Akhmetov shot himself when security police arrived to arrest him on corruption charges. Government officials ignored these allegations and have refrained from making any comments.

Daniyal Akhmetov's removal from his post came as a surprise, even to
senior officials in his office, as he sÑheduled a trip to Sary-Shagan
testing ground near Almaty on June 19. More surprising was his sudden
disappearance immediately after his dismissal. He was not seen among
government officials during the festivities marking the anniversary of
Astana and the birthday of President Nursultan Nazarbayev on July 6. It
is generally believed that Akhmetov's dismissal was triggered by a
corruption scandal related to a $156 million shady deal agreed in 2007
between Kazakhstan's ministry of defense and the Israeli Military
Industries (IMI) company, to purchase sophisticated artillery systems
for the Kazakh army. The MoD widely publicized its plans to manufacture
truck-mounted Semser howitzers in Kazakhstan, including the Aibat
self-propelled mortars and Naiza rocket launchers, in order to export
them to Kyrgyzstan and Azerbaijan (Izvestia-Kazakhstan, May 12, 2008).

However, the first test firing revealed serious technical faults in four
out of six artillery systems delivered by the Israeli company.
Consequently, the National Security Committee (KNB) launched an
investigation into the case, claiming that the artillery systems
purchased for $82 million did not comply with the required standards.
The contract with IMI was stalled, and the wave of subsequent arrests
included Kazhimurat Mayiyrmanov, the first deputy minister of defense.
He later cut his throat in a suicide attempt while in custody, though he
survived. Following the arrest of Mayirmanow, a number of high-ranking
officials in the defense ministry were also detained (EDM, June 23).

However, Nazarbayev's decision to appoint Adilbek Zhaksybekov,
Kazakhstan's former ambassador to Russia, as the new defense minister
surprised many observers. Zhaksybekov had held various key posts in the
government, which included serving as mayor of Astana, then trade
minister and head of the presidential administration. Nonetheless, he
never displayed any interest in military affairs (Kazakhstan Today, July 4).

One plausible explanation for his appointment as the second civilian to
head the defense ministry, may be that Zhaksybekov launched a successful
electoral campaign when he led the pro-presidential Nur Otan party,
prior to his diplomatic service in Russia. In terms of raising the
combat capability of the army, Zhaksybekov was clearly not the best
choice. Yet, the dramatically declining morale and all-pervasive
corruption within the army demands urgent measures and strong
leadership, not necessarily military, but with an untarnished
reputation. Nazarbayev expressed his "hope" that Zhaksybekov with his
"vast experience" would be able to restore law and order in the army
(Kazakhstan Today, July 4).

Zhaksybekov, the second civilian defense minister after Akhmetov, faces
the herculean task of eradicating corruption among the military.
Frequent cases of the theft of arms, mysterious fires and explosions in
ammunition depots, rampant bullying and crimes among officers have
reached an alarming scale, and has also become the subject of heated
debates in parliament. The KNB and the MoD have constantly vied to gain
control over the illegal arms trade. Daniyal Akhmetov, for all his
promises to modernize the army, did not cope with the task of creating
well-equipped, mobile units capable of meeting the challenges of modern
warfare. A series of crashes involving Russian-made helicopters and
aircraft in recent years, raised questions about the rationale behind
giving priority to the military partnership with Russia. Ironically,
Akhmetov's dismissal coincided with another Mi-24 helicopter crash in
the Almaty region, which resulted in three officers being seriously
injured. Despite multi-million dollar allocations from the state budget,
the deteriorating housing conditions for personnel has provoked protests
from retired army officers in Astana (Turkistan, June 25).

There is little indication that the appointment of the new defense
minister will have a significant impact on the nature of Kazakhstan's
military relations with either the West or Russia. As Nazarbayev
presented Zhaksybekov to the defense ministry staff, he stressed the
importance of more active cooperation with the Collective Security
Treaty Organization (CSTO), which signals the continuation of the old
Russian-oriented military policy Although, Akhmetov had tried to strike
a balance between NATO and Russian military interests in Kazakhstan,
differences between Astana and Moscow were too frequent. Kazakhstan
refused to recognize the independence of South Ossetia and Abkhazia
after the Russian-Georgian war. Against Russian attempts to create joint
naval forces of "friendly states" in the Caspian, Kazakhstan spoke out
in favor of the demilitarization of the Caspian Sea, while developing
its own navy.

In recent years, Moscow jealously watched the progress of U.S. military
assistance to Kazakhstan, as it created its own naval fleet in the
oil-rich region. However, despite these controversies and differences,
Kazakhstan and Russia, interdependent in defense matters, are likely to
continue deepening their military partnership, buoyed by their shared
stance over the new CSTO rapid reaction forces.

Eurasia Daily Monitor

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