Russia's Caspian War Games

A report by a Russian journalist who was sent to observe war games in Kazakhstan

By Ignat Kalinin

As part of the large-scale “Center 2011” military exercise in late September 2011, Russian and Kazakh army units practiced repelling an invasion of Kazakhstan from the south. According to the unveiled exercise plans, it is the Islamic Republic of Iran that is considered a potential aggressor.

The public was shown only two episodes of the Kazakhstan stage of the exercise. In one, the two countries’ border guards, marines, air force and naval units rebuffed the “imaginary aggressor’s” attempted invasion from the sea. The second episode was devoted to defeating enemy ground forces which had invaded Kazakhstan. Both episodes were observed by Kazakhstan’s minister of defence, Adilbek Dzhaksybekov. To make it clear to the minister what exactly would be happening in front of him (any military exercise looks like turmoil and confusion unless you know in advance what the plan is), each stage of the exercise was preceded by a mini-briefing by a general equipped with a pointer and a military map.

This map indicated all the units involved, including imaginary enemy forces. Two arrows were especially prominent, drawn over the waters of the Caspian Sea. One was marked “up to 30 F-4, F-5 and SU-25 aircraft;” the other, “up to 70 F-4, F-5 aircraft.” Ground forces of the “contingent enemy” were also impressive for their size (several divisions and brigades, including armor), but similarly detailed descriptions of their equipment were absent.

Both countries’ generals indignantly branded as provocative any direct questions as to the identity of the powerful “imaginary enemy” that Kazakhstan and Russia were preparing to fight.

At one point, speaking off the record, a senior Kazakh military officer admitted the obvious: The only country having such forces in the region is Iran. He added that, according to the exercise script, Iran’s leadership would react to US air strikes on Iran by destroying the oil fields in Kazakhstan’s Mangustan region, which are being developed by US corporations, including Exxon-Mobil. It is obvious that Kazakhstan cannot independently stand up to Iranian armed forces, but, together with the Russian army, could. The officer also confirmed that no Iranian observers were present at the exercise.

Such an exercise scenario may not reflect the actual concerns and intentions of Russian strategists. Their primary concern is the forthcoming US withdrawal from Afghanistan. Experts agree that this could lead to rapid Islamization and radicalization of Central Asian republics, in particular Turkmenistan. Iran will facilitate this process in every way, they assume. It follows that one of the former Soviet republics could become the real instigator of war in the Caspian region. This is a scenario that the Collective Security Treaty organization (CSTO) allies must be ready for.

Ignat Kalinin is a journalist with Moskovsky Komsomolets.

Peace Magazine Jan-Mar 2012

Peace Magazine Jan-Mar 2012, page 25. Some rights reserved.

Search for other articles by Ignat Kalinin here

Peace Magazine homepage