The Kazakhstan Massacre: Killing Hope to Benefit US Geopolitical Interests
Tuesday, 13 March 2012 12:00
by: Steve Horn and Allen Ruff, Truthout
Railroad tanker cars wait on a siding in the Tengiz oil field in western Kazakhstan. (Photo: Viktor Korotayev / The New York Times)
December 16, 2011, should have been, at minimum, a fairly bright day for the people of Kazakhstan marking the country's Independence Day and 20th birthday.
But rather than being a moment of celebration, it became a day of brutal repression and death, a bloody scene in the regional center of Zhanaozen paralleling those that occurred at the hands of US-supported dictatorial regimes during the uprisings now commonly referred to as the Arab Spring.
The victims of the state's crackdown were striking oil workers protesting subsistence wages and poor working conditions in the city of 51,000 citizens 75 miles east of the Caspian Sea.
Kazakhstan's state media reported police shot and killed ten workers, wounding more than 80 strikers. Independent journalist Mark Ames translated an account of a Russian reporter who estimated approximately 70 dead, with 500 to 800 wounded. Scores more were jailed, likely the victims of beatings and torture.
EurasiaNet's Joshua Kucera reported the attacks on the strikers were carried out by police armed with US-supplied weaponry. Some of the 114 Humvees given to Kazkahstan since 2002 as part of the US-funded Kazakhstan Peacekeeping Brigade (KAZBRIG) were filmed on the streets during the height of the repression.
That same cold, dark December day at Aktau, 75 miles to the west, police cracked down on rallies held in solidarity with the Zhanaozen workers. Human Rights Watch documented that, "police detained about 100 protesters and took them to a temporary detention center ... Workers in Aktau reported heavy police surveillance at the protest, which was held in front of the regional mayor's office."
Human Rights Watch responded to the abuse of civil liberties by calling for an investigation into the use of state violence and called for the restoration of telecommunications services.
The repression was conducted by a police apparatus built up under the dictatorial reign of President Nursultan Nazarbayev, the country's leader and "winner" of fixed election after election since the Central Asian Republic became independent following the break-up of the Soviet Union in 1991.
Later, parliamentary elections took place on January 15, with Nazarbayev initially barring those living in Zhanaozen from participating. He later revoked that decision, but that didn't matter, since the elections are consistently rigged to begin with under what is essentially a one-party state.
The December repression of oil workers, and the political situation at large in Kazakhstan, call for a deeper examination into the geopolitical situation of a country located at the heart of what has long been referred to as the historic Silk Road trade route and what investigative journalist Pepe Escobar refers to as Pipelineistan.
Four times the size of Texas and larger than western Europe, a massive country of over 16 million at the heart of Central Asia, resource-rich Kazakhstan has increasingly become a vital centerpiece of US strategic interest, "soft power" and "hard power" regional influence.
The country has become case study for US deployment of the so-called "three D's": diplomacy, development and defense - as part of the broader ongoing long-war effort delineated in the Pentagon's April 2011 National Strategic Narrative and elsewhere.
Northern Distribution Network: "A Modern Silk Road"
Kazakhstan sits close to the path formerly known as the Silk Road, an overland caravan trade route traversing the region linking China to the Middle East. A similar route, carrying weapons and key equipment to Western occupation forces in Afghanistan, is now referred to by US strategic planners as the Northern Distribution Network (NDN).
CNN describes the NDN's path this way: "The main route begins at the port of Riga in Latvia, from where freight trains roll across Russia, and continues along the edge of the Caspian Sea. It crosses the deserts of Kazakhstan and into Uzbekistan.... Other routes begin at the port of Ponti in Georgia on the Black Sea and at Vladivostok in the Russian Far East."
CNN explained what was carried on this new Silk Road: "About 10 days after beginning their odyssey, the containers cross into Afghanistan, carrying everything from computers and socks to toilet paper and bottled water."
With the overland Khyber Pass supply route from Pakistan to southern Afghanistan regularly threatened and periodically closed by Taliban attacks, and US-Pakistan relations becoming increasingly sour - due, in large part, to Obama's drone war being waged in Pakistan - the NDN has only grown in importance over time.
"The Grand Chessboard"
The ninth-largest country in the world, Kazakhstan borders the Caspian Sea and Turkmenistan in the southwest, Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan to the south, China to the East and Russia to the north. The country is also fairly close to key centers of current US geopolitical concern: Iran and Afghanistan. The broader region is also of vital geostrategic importance for its great-power neighbors - Russia and China.
In addition to Kazakhstan's geostrategic importance, the Caspian Sea, which it borders, holds over 4 billion tons of proven recoverable oil reserves and 3 trillion cubic meters of natural gas, according to the CIA World Factbook.
Brzezinski explained that the area is far too large to control through direct rule alone and alluded to the projection of what is now referred to as US "soft power" as part of the "great game":
US soft power, inspired by the academic work of Brzezinski, would eventually be projected in Kazakhstan in the form of diplomatic efforts and development programs under the auspices of the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), the Peace Corps, educational endeavors like the Bolashak Program, and American Corners, as well as assistance in the creation of Nazarbayev University at the nation's new capital, Astana.
US hard power would also soon be projected into Kazakhstan, including the provision of weapons for the Kazakh military and police; unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), more commonly known as drones; construction of strategic military bases in neighboring countries; the contracting out of private mercenary forces placed in the region; and the training of the Kazakh military and policing force.
The Three D's: The US-Kazakh Chessboard
Heeding Brzezinski's "Grand Chessboard" advice, US foreign policy efforts toward Kazakhstan have centered less around defense and more on development and diplomacy.
Given that caveat, there has been no shortage of US-provided "defense" for Kazakhstan and the countries surrounding the Caspian when Washington's grand strategists have called for it.
According to USAID figures, the US doled out $17.8 million in military aid to Kazakhstan between 2006 and 2009. While a seemingly paltry sum when compared to that bestowed upon major recipients such as Israel and Egypt, such assistance has played a significant role in solidifying the relationship with the Nazabayev regime.
An October 2009 State Department diplomatic cable released to the public by WikiLeaks showed that the United States provides UAVs, or drones, to the Kazakh military.
The Department of Defense (DoD), while it does not maintain any military bases in Kazakhstan, does maintain one in neighboring Kyrgyzstan, the Transit Center at Manas, formerly known as Manas Air Base. The DoD formerly maintained one in nearby Uzbekistan called the Karshi-Khanabad Air Base. Both bases were utilized by the US military during its ongoing occupation in Afghanistan.
The Transit Center at Manas, according to a November 2011 New York Times piece, is set to close shop in 2014, when the US lease with the Kyrgyz government expires. Washington currently pays $40 million per year to rent space at the air base, according to the Times.
In Kazakhstan, US-provided "defense" has gone far beyond the mere sale of weaponry and has entered into the sphere of operational support and training of the country's military.
In 1995, the US Central Command (CENTCOM), through the National Guard State Partnership Program, initiated an exchange program between the Arizona National Guard and the Kazakh Armed Forces. The program aimed at "working towards expanding Kazakhstan's role in the [North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO)] Partnership for Peace program," explained former Clinton administration Secretary of Defense William Perry at a February 1996 press conference.
Another key collaboration between the US and Kazakh militaries has been the annual joint "Steppe Eagle Exercise." Under the umbrella of NATO, the program was inaugurated in 1997 as part of NATO's Partnership for Peace. Kazakhstan, a bit far from the Atlantic, joined NATO in 1995.
Steppe Eagle falls under the US military's broader Theatre Security Cooperation Program (TSCP), an initiative begun in 1995 which prepares US allied military forces for joint operations, according to an Army press release.
"Theater Security Cooperation (TSC) programs are the centerpiece of our efforts to promote security and stability by building and strengthening relationships with our allies and regional partners and are an indispensable component of our overarching ... strategy," Hamlin B. Tallent, director of the US European Command's (EUCOM) European Plans and Operations Center explained in a March 2005 statement before the US House International Relations Committee.
One of the most important pieces of the "defense" side of the "3- D's" equation is the CENTCOM-trained special operations force collaboration between Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan, known as the Caspian Guard Initiative, which got off the ground in fall 2003.
A 2005 article appearing in Agence France-Presse explained, "The United States plans to spend a total of 135 million dollars within the framework of the US-funded Caspian Guard Initiative, which envisions improving the capabilities of the maritime forces of Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan."
Investigative journalist Jeremy Scahill, in his book, "Blackwater: The Rise of the World's Most Powerful Mercenary Army," wrote that Blackwater USA, now known as Academi and, previously, as Xe Services, plays a key role in the Caspian Guard Initiative.
"Beginning in July 2004, Blackwater forces were contracted to work in the heart of the oil- and gas-rich Caspian Sea region, where they would quietly train a force modeled after the Navy SEALs and establish a base just north of the Iranian border," Scahill wrote.
"Blackwater would be tasked with establishing and training an elite ... force modeled after the U.S. Navy SEALs that would ultimately protect the interests of the United States and its allies in a hostile region ... [serving] a dual purpose: protecting the West's new profitable oil and gas exploitation in a region historically dominated by Russia and Iran, and possibly laying the groundwork for an important forward operating base in an attack against Iran," he continued.
Also falling under the umbrella of the Caspian Guard Initiative was a key provision of the 2006 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), Section 1206, which, according to a February 2011 report by the Congressional Research Service (CRS), "provides the Secretary of Defense with authority to train and equip foreign military forces for two specified purposes - counter-terrorism and stability operations - and foreign maritime security forces for counterterrorism operations."
Under Section 1206, Kazakhstan has, thus far, received $31.8 million for "Caspian Security" and "Counter-Terrorism and Stability Operations Capacity Aid," according to the CRS.
Kazakhstan, as a participant in the Global Peace Operations Initiative, a joint effort by the State Department and the DoD, also received "$14 million in funds ... [for] body armor, water purification units, vehicles, and uniform equipment" in 2006 and 2007, according to the Government Accountability Office (GAO).
"Development and Diplomacy"
What Brzezinski described as placing "a premium on geostrategic skill, on the careful, selective, and very deliberate deployment of America's resources on the huge Eurasian chessboard" has many important facets, but all center around creating a stable, market-based economy friendly to US corporate interests.
The most overt example of this includes oil giant Chevron's entry into Kazkahstan in the early 1990s. The energy giant secured a major stake in Kazakhstan's huge Tengiz oil field with the creation of a partnership, called Tengizchevroil, between Chevron, ExxonMobil, the Russian government-owned LukArco and the Kazakh government.
Other examples of key business alliances include the American Chamber of Commerce in Kazakhstan, the US-Kazakhstan Business Association, the Chamber of Commerce and Industry of the Republic of Kazakhstan in the USA, and the US-Kazakhstan Public-Private Economic Partnership Initiative, to name several.
A WikiLeaks cable written in June 2009 confirmed one of these claims. It described a situation in which one volunteer, Anthony Sharp was, "arrested in what appeared to be a classic Soviet-style set-up, likely orchestrated by the pro-Russian old-guard at the Committee for National Security (KNB) and aimed at discrediting the Peace Corps and damaging bilateral relations."
Another crucial program for US soft-power projection in Kazakhstan is the State Department-funded Bolashak Program. ("Bolashak" translates into English as "the future.")
Nazarbayev University: "A Number-One Priority"