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Phantom Foe? Russia To Upgrade Kyrgyzstan's Air-Defense System


The deployment of S-300PS in Kyrgyzstan would be a significant upgrade for the country's air defenses. (file photo)

Russian Deputy Defense Minister Nikolai Pankov announced on February 11 that a modern air-defense system would be sent to the Russian military base in northern Kyrgyzstan.

Although some questioned the motives for the move, Moscow and Bishkek have been discussing it for several years and placing the system at the Kant military base -- some 40 kilometers from the capital, Bishkek -- is a rather logical step in creating a unified air-defense system for the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS).

Or perhaps it's all being done for another regional security organization.

Along with being in the CIS, Kyrgyzstan is a member of the Russian-led Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO).

Kazakhstan and Tajikistan are also CSTO members.

In 2015, Kazakhstan received the S-300PS air-defense systems and in 2019, Russia's 201st Division, which is stationed in Tajikistan, received S-300PS air-defense systems.

Of course Kyrgyzstan lies between Kazakhstan and Tajikistan and was lagging behind.

Kyrgyzstan still has quite outdated SA-2 and SA-3 air-defense systems. The SA-2 air-defense missile (also called the S-75 Dvina) was first deployed by the Soviet Union in the late 1950s. The SA-3 systems (also known as the S-125 Neva/Pechora) were used in the 1960s.

It seems an upgrade is definitely in order.

The S-300PS system was first deployed in the mid-1980s and would represent a significant improvement in Kyrgyzstan's air-defense system though, as yet, Russia has not said exactly which system Kyrgyzstan would receive.

Who Is The Enemy?

An interesting question, however, is against whom the new system is being deployed in that part of Central Asia?

The S-300PS system is designed to defend against aircraft and cruise missiles.

The biggest security threat to Central Asia comes from stateless militant groups who do not have warplanes or cruise missiles. But it must be noted that Russia also plans to repair the runway at the Kant air base and will reportedly station upgraded Su-25SM3 attack aircraft and drones there.

Those weapons would certainly help in a campaign against militants.

The countries close to Central Asia that have advanced warplanes and missiles are Iran, Pakistan, India, and China. But the latter three are members of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) which also includes Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan (along with Uzbekistan and Russia).

But Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan also all border China.

The SCO was originally the Shanghai Five (Russia, China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan) when it was created in 1996 and its initial purpose was to have all of the countries pull back troops and weapons from the former Soviet-China frontier.

That worked so well that they decided to expand the agenda of the organization.

Yet since 2015, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, and soon Kyrgyzstan will have all upgraded their air defenses, which is still in keeping with original agreements to withdraw forces from the border areas.

But it also hints that there is less than total trust in these agreements.

Of course, Moscow might also just be ensuring that Kyrgyzstan has Russian-made, air-defense systems.

Interestingly enough, the other Central Asian states -- Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan -- are not CSTO members but they, too, have improved their air-defense systems by purchasing China's HQ-9 surface-to-air missiles, a Chinese version of the S-300.

About This Blog

Qishloq Ovozi is a blog by RFE/RL Central Asia specialist Bruce Pannier that aims to look at the events that are shaping Central Asia and its respective countries, connect some of the dots to shed light on why those processes are occurring, and identify the agents of change.

Bruce Pannier
Bruce Pannier

Content draws on the extensive knowledge and contacts of RFE/RL's Central Asian services but also allow scholars in the West, particularly younger scholars who will be tomorrow’s experts on the region, opportunities to share their views on the evolving situation at this Eurasian crossroad.

The name means "Village Voice" in Uzbek. But don't be fooled, Qishloq Ovozi is about all of Central Asia.

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