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Kazakhstan: Army, Like Nation, Losing Morale

Almaty, 16 January 1997 (RFE/RL) -- Kazakhstan's General Military Procuracy has just held its annual meeting in Almaty at which it announced a sad total -- that 203 soldiers lost their lives last year as a result of crimes by fellow servicemen.

The same session disclosed that among the officer corps alone, 277 men were taken into custody for criminal offenses.

The statistics underline the increasing problems facing the Kazakh army, which was formed in 1991 from the remnants of the Soviet armed forces left on Kazakh soil.

In the new Kazakh army the necessary military discipline suffered a heavy blow right at the start. Thousands of officers who were not ethnic Kazakhs decided to leave and head home to Russia, Ukraine and elsewhere to serve with the military in what had just become their "own countries."

That meant experienced officers were in short supply and that a new officer corps had to be created from among inexperienced servicemen -- a sure recipe for an overall loss of discipline.

As Kazakhstan's economy began its downward slide, the army's situation mirrored that of society. Medical care declined, food was in short supply, the crime rate went up, as did desertion. The country's young men, having heard tales of hardship and personal danger in the military ranks, were far from eager to serve their term as conscripts.

An Interior Ministry spokesman, Kelimtay Aldyrbayev, told RFE/RL correspondents in Almaty that in a round-up of deserters over a mere eight-day period of last month, 434 deserters were taken into custody. In the early part of the year, nearly a thousand more were located and made to return to barracks.

Other soldiers have not deserted entirely, but have slipped away to supplement their incomes with civilian jobs, like the case in which servicemen were found in villages near their barracks, acting as shepherds.

The net result is that military preparedness -- which was not considered very high even in Soviet days -- has slipped further.

Poor and outdated equipment compounds the problem; all the best equipment went with the withdrawing Russians.

There are bright spots on the re-equipment front, however. The Kazakh air force recently took delivery from Russia of several relatively modern Su-27 fighters, and Moscow has promised more in barter payment for the continued use of the Baikonur Space Centre. Russia is currently $400 million in arrears on its payments to the Kazakh government for Baikonur.

In addition, four former Soviet-era military test fields have been made available to Russia, for a rental of $28 million annually. Our correspondents report there's a likelihood these fees will be paid at least in part through the supply of up-to-date equipment.

And the new Kazakh fleet on the Caspian Sea is looking resplendent with a total of 10 patrol boats supplied under grants from the United States and Germany.