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Kazakhstan flagKazakhstan

Biological Last updated: June, 2014

Kazakhstan has never engaged in an offensive or defensive biological warfare (BW) program, and acceded to the Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention (BTWC) in 2007. [1] However, its territory was used extensively by the Soviet government for research, production, and testing of biological warfare agents.

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 Soviet BW infrastructure. Following the breakup of the Soviet Union, the biological weapons program halted in Kazakhstan, and BW facilities have been dismantled or converted. The Kazakhstani government has been remarkably open with respect to facilities on its territory.

The four main Soviet BW facilities in Kazakhstan that were directly or indirectly involved in the Soviet offensive BW program were the:

  1. Vozrozhdeniye Island Open-Air Test Site in the Aral Sea
  2. Scientific Experimental and Production Base (SNOPB) in Stepnogorsk
  3. Scientific Research Agricultural Institute (NISKhI) in Gvardeyskiy
  4. Anti-Plague Scientific Research Institute in Almaty

History

The USSR conducted research and development for its offensive BW program in Kazakhstan. Thus, the history of BW activities in Kazakhstan is the history of Soviet BW development.

The Soviet Union had the world's largest BW program. Throughout the 20th century, the USSR developed the capability to produce massive quantities of a wide variety of BW agents, inducing plague, tularemia, glanders, anthrax, smallpox and Venezuelan equine encephalomyelitis. [2] The Soviet BW program dates from the late 1920s, when the USSR began developing antipersonnel BW agents. The Soviet military controlled almost all facets of the program. In 1936, the Soviet government established the Open-Air Test Site on Vozrozhdeniye Island in the Aral Sea, Kazakhstan, which was directly operated by the Soviet Ministry of Defense (MoD). Vozrozhdeniye Island was the USSR's major proving ground for open-air testing of BW agents. [3] The other early Soviet BW facility on Kazakhstani territory was the Scientific Research Agricultural Institute (NISKhI) in Zhambyl Oblast, established in 1958, which developed anti-plant and anti-livestock microbial agents. [6] NISKhI, was also likely supervised by the MoD, although it was officially controlled by the Ministry of Agriculture. [4]

In the early 1970s, Soviet authorities created a network of facilities officially designated as civilian biological research centers. However, these new facilities, controlled by the MoD-funded Biopreparat, operated in tandem with the military BW research apparatus, and also served as cover for BW activities. [5] The covert military BW activities conducted in this new network of facilities were in clear violation of the Soviet Union's obligation to end all offensive BW activities as stipulated under the Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention (BWTC), signed and ratified by the Soviet Union in 1972 and 1975, respectively. [6]

Approximately 40 research, development and production facilities operated under Biopreparat, many of which were actively involved in military BW programs in addition to civil biotechnology activities. The Scientific Experimental and Production Base (SNOPB) in Stepnogorsk, Kazakhstan, which was supervised by the 15th Directorate of the MoD, was historically one of the Biopreparat facilities involved in manufacturing offensive BW agents. Evidence suggests the SNOPB may also have shared technology and personnel with military facilities. [7]

Soviet facilities were also involved in defensive developments. The Soviet Union developed a system of anti-plague research institutes and field monitoring stations under the Soviet Ministry of Health, and one such institute was located in Almaty, Kazakhstan. [8] 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 the MoD or Biopreparat BW facilities, on many occasions they were involved in supportive research activities for well-funded military projects. [9]

In 1991-1992, Russia halted funding for 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. [10]

Recent Developments and Current Status

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 was destroyed, and its military settlement was abandoned. This was confirmed by experts from the U.S. Department of Defense when they assessed the site in 1995. [11]

Since 1991, the Kazakhstani government has committed itself to civilian conversion of the former Soviet facilities, and particularly the SNOPB and the NISKhI. [19] Due to a lack of funds and necessary expertise, initial efforts were unsuccessful. In 1993, Kazakhstan founded the National Center of Biotechnology (NCB), which subsumed most of the former Soviet military and civilian biotechnology facilities in Kazakhstan, including the SNOPB and the NISKhI. The NCB did not initially include the Anti-Plague Scientific Research Institute in Almaty, which was placed 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. [12] On the other hand, the NISKhI, which had less military-related equipment to dismantle and convert, made the transition to civil use on its own. [13] Most of the equipment at the Almaty Anti-Plague Institute was already suitable for civil applications. However, 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 reduce biological weapons proliferation risks. [14] This was an amendment to the 1995 bilateral agreement, a component 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, to strengthen biosafety and biosecurity at Kazakhstani facilities, to consolidate dangerous biological agents at secured central repositories, to eliminate BW-related equipment and infrastructure, and to bolster Kazakhstan's ability to detect biological agents and to deter or respond to an attack. [15]

In August 2005, the National Center for Biotechnology (NCB) 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 research institute carrying out applied research on multiple projects, including avian influenza, with a mission to transform Kazakhstan's biotechnology sector into a profitable high technologies sector. [16]

In August 2006, Kazakhstani officials indicated that the country planned to expand its biological weapons nonproliferation measures. Specifically, the country intends to create a disease surveillance system by constructing and modernizing diagnostic laboratories, improving physical protection at biological facilities, and expanding joint research between Kazakhstani and U.S. scientists. [17]

In accordance with these plans, Kazakhstan began constructing the Central Reference Laboratory in March 2010, using funds received through the U.S. Cooperative Threat Reduction Program. [18] When it opens in 2015, this high-tech 87,000 square-foot facility will begin developing diagnostic tools and countermeasures for dealing with natural disease outbreaks and biological weapons attacks. According to U.S Ambassador to Kazakhstan Richard Hoagland, the laboratory will also "dramatically increase the security of Kazakhstan's collection of especially dangerous pathogens and strengthen the scientific capabilities of Central Asian scientists." [19] In addition to the $103 million designated for the construction of the Central Reference Laboratory, the U.S. government is also providing approximately $5.6 million to build another facility in the village of Otar in the Zhambylskaya region. [20] This laboratory, which is scheduled to begin operations in April 2014, will serve to provide an early warning of new disease outbreaks in the region. [21]

Sources

[1] "Biological Weapons Convention: Meeting of Experts 2007," Interim Report by the Chairman, Ambassador Masood Khan (Pakistan), on Universalization Activities, 24 August 2007, unog.ch.
[2] Jonathan B. Tucker and Raymond A. Zilinskas, eds., "The 1971 Smallpox Epidemic in Aralsk, Kazakhstan, and the Soviet Biological Warfare Program," p. i, Occasional Paper No. 9, Center for Nonproliferation Studies, June 2002.
[3] Jonathan B. Tucker and Raymond A. Zilinskas, eds., "The 1971 Smallpox Epidemic in Aralsk, Kazakhstan, and the Soviet Biological Warfare Program," p. iii, Occasional Paper No. 9, Center for Nonproliferation Studies, June 2002.
[4] Gulbarshyn Bozheyeva, Yerlan Kunakbayev, and Dastan Yeleukenov, "Former Soviet Biological Weapons Facilities in Kazakhstan: Past, Present and Future," p. 2, Occasional Paper, No. 1, Center for Nonproliferation Studies, June 1999.
[5] Gulbarshyn Bozheyeva, Yerlan Kunakbayev, and Dastan Yeleukenov, "Former Soviet Biological Weapons Facilities in Kazakhstan: Past, Present and Future," p. 2, Occasional Paper, No. 1, Center for Nonproliferation Studies, June 1999.
[6] Status of the Convention," Organization for the Prohibition of Biological Weapons, June 2005, opbw.org.
[7] Gulbarshyn Bozheyeva, Yerlan Kunakbayev, and Dastan Yeleukenov, "Former Soviet Biological Weapons Facilities in Kazakhstan: Past, Present and Future," p. 3, Occasional Paper, No. 1, Center for Nonproliferation Studies, June 1999.
[8] Gulbarshyn Bozheyeva, Yerlan Kunakbayev, and Dastan Yeleukenov, "Former Soviet Biological Weapons Facilities in Kazakhstan: Past, Present and Future," p. 3-4, Occasional Paper, No. 1, Center for Nonproliferation Studies, June 1999.
[9] Gulbarshyn Bozheyeva, Yerlan Kunakbayev, and Dastan Yeleukenov, "Former Soviet Biological Weapons Facilities in Kazakhstan: Past, Present and Future," p. 4, Occasional Paper, No. 1, Center for Nonproliferation Studies, June 1999.
[10] Gulbarshyn Bozheyeva, Yerlan Kunakbayev, and Dastan Yeleukenov, "Former Soviet Biological Weapons Facilities in Kazakhstan: Past, Present and Future," p. 13-17, Occasional Paper, No. 1, Center for Nonproliferation Studies, June 1999.
[11] Gulbarshyn Bozheyeva, Yerlan Kunakbayev, and Dastan Yeleukenov, "Former Soviet Biological Weapons Facilities in Kazakhstan: Past, Present and Future," p. 7-8, Occasional Paper, No. 1, Center for Nonproliferation Studies, June 1999.

[12] Gulbarshyn Bozheyeva, Yerlan Kunakbayev, and Dastan Yeleukenov, "Former Soviet Biological Weapons Facilities in Kazakhstan: Past, Present and Future," p. 13-14, Occasional Paper, No. 1, Center for Nonproliferation Studies, June 1999.
[13] Gulbarshyn Bozheyeva, Yerlan Kunakbayev, and Dastan Yeleukenov, "Former Soviet Biological Weapons Facilities in Kazakhstan: Past, Present and Future," p. 17, Occasional Paper, No. 1, Center for Nonproliferation Studies, June 1999.
[14] "U.S., Kazakhstan Sign Nunn-Lugar Agreement Amendment to Prevent Biological Weapons Proliferation," 8 December 2004, States News Service.
[15] "Senior US Senator, Kazakh Security Chiefs Discuss Non-Proliferation Cooperation," BBC Monitoring International Reports, 19 August 2006.
[16] Official web site of the National Center for Biotechnology under the Kazakhstan Ministry of Education and Science, accessed 3 March 2008, www.biocenter.kz.
[17] Official web site of the National Center for Biotechnology under the Kazakhstan Ministry of Education and Science, accessed 3 March 2008, www.biocenter.kz.
[18] "Kazakhstan Breaks Ground on Biothreat Laboratory," Global Security Newswire, 31 March 2010, www.nti.org.
[19] Rachel Oswald, "Central Asia's first Biothreat Research Laboratory to Play Threat-Reduction Role," Global Security Newswire, 9 August 2013 www.nti.org.
[20] "Kazakhstan Breaks Ground on Biothreat Laboratory," Global Security Newswire, 31 March 2010, www.nti.org.
[21] Rachel Oswald, "Central Asia's first Biothreat Research Laboratory to Play Threat-Reduction Role," Global Security Newswire, 9 August 2013 www.nti.org.

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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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