Biological Last updated: February, 2013
Kazakhstan, as an independent country, has never been engaged in an offensive or defensive biological warfare (BW) program, and has acceded to the Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention (BWC) in 2007. However, its territory was used extensively by the Soviet government for research, production, and testing of biological warfare agents. Within the Soviet BW structure, Kazakhstan housed four BW research, production, and testing sites that played a key role in the development of the Soviet offensive BW program. These facilities reported to different central authorities in Moscow and belonged to various parts of the complicated Soviet BW structure, which was a network of numerous facilities under military and/or civilian control. Since the break up of the Soviet Union, the biological weapons program has been halted in Kazakhstan and BW facilities have been either dismantled or converted. Unlike in Russia, where some former Soviet BW facilities are alleged to be maintaining the capability to produce BW agents alongside legitimate activities, the Kazakhstani government has been remarkably open with respect to facilities on its territory. The four main Soviet BW facilities in Kazakhstan directly or indirectly involved in the Soviet offensive BW program were the Vozrozhdeniye Island Open-Air Test Site in the Aral Sea; the Scientific Experimental and Production Base (SNOPB) in Stepnogorsk; the Scientific Research Agricultural Institute (NISKhI) in Gvardeyskiy; and the Anti-Plague Scientific Research Institute in Almaty.
The USSR conducted extensive research and development of its offensive BW program in Kazakhstan, but Kazakhstan does not have a history of a BW program as an independent country. Thus, the history of BW activities in Kazakhstan is largely related to the Soviet BW developments.
The Soviet Union had the world's largest BW program, which in the course of 20th century developed a capability for wartime production of hundreds of tons of a range of biological agents causing plague, tularemia, glanders, anthrax, smallpox, and Venezuelan equine encephalomyelitis. Soviet BW activities took root in the late 1920s, with the early Soviet BW facilities developing antipersonnel BW agents. Most elements of the program were controlled by the Soviet military, including the following facilities: the Scientific Research Institute of Microbiology in Kirov (now Vyatka) Russia; the Center for Military-Technical Problems of Anti-Bacteriological Defense in Sverdlovsk (now Yekaterinburg), Russia; the Center of Virology in Zagorsk (now Sergiyev Posad), Russia; the Scientific Research Institute of Military Medicine in Leningrad (now St. Petersburg), Russia. In addition to those Soviet BW facilities operating on Russian territory, in 1936 the Soviet government established the Open-Air Test Site on Vozrozhdeniye Island in the Aral Sea, Kazakhstan. Vozrozhdeniye Island became the major proving ground in the Soviet Union for the open-air testing of BW agents developed at various Soviet facilities and was directly operated by the Soviet Ministry of Defense (MOD). The other early Soviet BW facility on Kazakhstani territory was the Scientific Research Agricultural Institute (NISKhI) in Gvardeyskiy settlement, located in Zhambyl Oblast, which worked on microbial agents harmful to livestock and plants. Though formally under the control of the Soviet Ministry of Agriculture, the NISKhI, established in 1958, was also likely supervised by the MOD.
In the early 1970s, the Soviet authorities began creating a new network of BW facilities parallel to its military system that were officially designed to conduct civilian research, though they also served as a cover for military-related BW activities. In 1972, the USSR Council of Ministers established a secret Interagency Science and Technology Council on Molecular Biology and Genetics consisting of representatives from the MOD, the Soviet Academy of Sciences, the Ministry of Health, and the Ministry of Agriculture. In 1973, the All-Union Production Association Biopreparat was created by the Decree of the Central Committee of the Soviet Communist Party and the USSR Council of Ministers, which was tasked with implementing the programs approved by the Interagency Council. Although formally subordinated to the civilian Main Administration of Microbiological Industry (Glavmikrobioprom), Biopreparat was funded by the MOD and the head of the organization held the rank of lieutenant-general. Approximately forty research, development, and production facilities were operating under Biopreparat, many of which were actively involved in military BW programs in addition to civilian biotechnological activities. The covert military BW activities conducted in this new network of facilities were in obvious violation of the Soviet Union's obligation to stop all offensive BW activities as stipulated under the Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention (BWC), signed by Russia in 1972.
The leading Biopreparat facilities involved in an offensive BW program included the State Scientific Center of Applied Microbiology in Obolensk, Russia; the Institute of Immunological Studies in Lyubuchany, Russia; the State Scientific Center of Virology and Biotechnology (known as Vector) near Novosibirsk, Russia; the State Scientific Institute of Ultrapure Biological Preparations in Leningrad, Russia; and the Scientific Experimental and Production Base (SNOPB) in Stepnogorsk, Kazakhstan. Like the military biotechnological centers, the work at those Biopreparat facilities was supervised by the 15th Directorate of MOD; the military and Biopreparat facilities also shared some technologies and personnel.
In addition to aforementioned facilities, other Soviet facilities were involved in defensive developments. The Soviet Union developed the system of anti-plague research institutes and field monitoring stations under the Soviet Ministry of Health (one such institute was operated in Almaty, Kazakhstan). Some institutes were also under the control of the Soviet Academy of Sciences. Although those facilities were mainly responsible for civilian scientific or epidemiological investigations and did not have direct links to MOD or Biopreparat BW facilities, on many occasions they were involved in supportive research activities to well-funded military projects.
In 1991-1992, Russia halted funding to the former Soviet BW centers in Kazakhstan, closed their military programs, and abandoned the sites. As a result, all Soviet offensive and defensive BW programs on Kazakhstani territory were terminated, and the four major BW facilities were either dismantled or converted.
Following a number of decrees by the Russian and Kazakhstani governments issued after the collapse of the Soviet Union, the Vozrozhdeniye Island facilities were dismantled, the site's infrastructure destroyed, and its military settlement abandoned; this was confirmed by experts from the U.S. Department of Defense assessing the site in 1995.
Since 1991, the Kazakhstani government has committed itself to the civilian conversion of the former Soviet facilities, particularly the SNOPB and the NISKhI. Due to lack of funds and necessary expertise, the initial efforts were unsuccessful. In 1993, the Presidential Edict of the Republic of Kazakhstan founded the National Center for Biotechnology (NCB), which brought together most of the former Soviet military and civilian biotechnology facilities in Kazakhstan, among them the SNOPB and the NISKhI. The NCB did not initially include the Anti-Plague Scientific Research Institute in Almaty, which was put under the authority of the Kazakhstani Ministry of Health. Because a substantial amount of equipment was dismantled or destroyed in the SNOPB, its civilian conversion has required considerable financial and material resources. On the other hand, the NISKhI, which had fewer and much smaller items of military-related equipment to dismantle and convert, made the transition to civilian production on its own. For Almaty Anti-Plague Institute, most of its equipment was already suitable for civilian applications. The task of converting weapons-related expertise to peaceful production required considerable effort at all of the former Soviet BW facilities in Kazakhstan.
In December 2004, Astana and Washington signed an agreement designed to eliminate the biological weapons proliferation threat or the use of related technology or know-how by terrorists. This was an amendment to the 1995 bilateral agreement that is part of the Nunn-Lugar Cooperative Threat Reduction program designed to prevent the proliferation of biological weapons technology, pathogens, and expertise. The $35 million in U.S. assistance has been used to prevent the proliferation of biological weapons through cooperative research efforts, strengthen biosafety and biosecurity at Kazakhstani facilities, consolidate dangerous biological agents at secured central repositories, eliminate BW-related equipment and infrastructure, and bolster Kazakhstan's ability to detect biological agents and to deter or respond to an attack.
In August 2005, the National Center for Biotechnology was reorganized into the state enterprise "National Center for Biotechnology of the Republic of Kazakhstan" and placed under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Education and Science. At present, NCB is a leading organization that carries out applied research on multiple projects, including avian influenza, with a mission to transform Kazakhstan's biotechnology sector into a profitable high technologies sector.
In August 2006, Kazakhstani officials indicated that the country planned to expand its biological weapon nonproliferation measures. Specifically, the country intends to create a disease surveillance system by constructing and modernizing diagnostic laboratories, improving the physical protection at biological facilities, and expanding joint research between Kazakhstani and U.S. scientists.
 Gulbarshyn Bozheyeva, Yerlan Kunakbayev, and Dastan Yeleukenov, "Former Soviet Biological Weapons Facilities in Kazakhstan: Past, Present and Future," Occasional Paper, No. 1, Center for Nonproliferation Studies, June 1999.
 Jonathan B. Tucker and Raymond A. Zilinskas, "The 1971 Smallpox Epidemic in Aralsk, Kazakhstan, and the Soviet Biological Warfare Program," Occasional Paper No. 9, Center for Nonproliferation Studies, June 2002.
 Anthony Rimmington, "The Biopharmaceutical Industry in Kazakhstan: Opportunities for UK Companies," Report of the DTI OSTEMS 'Scout' Mission to Kazakhstan, University of Birmingham, July 1995.
 Official web site of the National Center for Biotechnology under the Kazakhstan Ministry of Education and Science, accessed 3 March 2008, www.biocenter.kz.
This material is produced independently for NTI by the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies at the Monterey Institute of International Studies and does not necessarily reflect the opinions of and has not been independently verified by NTI or its directors, officers, employees, or agents.
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