Russian Military Presence in Central Asia

15 m.   |  2020-06-08

During the Cold War, the rivalry between the USA and the USSR was based on the expanding of military bases around the world. The main goal was to ensure the security of the allied countries while simultaneously increasing their influence around the world. At the end of the 20th century, both the United States and the Soviet Union had the largest and most numerous amount of military bases around the world.

The situation changed after the collapse of the USSR, as a result, the USA reduced their military bases to about 97, and Russia withdrew its bases from Europe and later its military presence in Africa, Cuba and Vietnam. These reductions in military bases didn’t prevent Washington from staying ahead in the quest to assert its influence with around 800 military bases in over 70 countries; it had managed to maintain its global power while Russia was left with about 25 military bases.

Besides Russian bases in Syria, there are many bases in the former Soviet Union, which operate on lease or on other similar contractual agreements. Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, as well as Transnistria, Abkhazia, South Ossetia all house Russian military bases of some sort.

The Russian military bases in Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan are of great importance for both Moscow and the region. Bases in Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan are non-existent. This is due to Russia’s lack of military interest in the two pertaining countries and in Turkmenistan, a foreign policy shift left Russia without a base in the country.


C urrently Kazakhstan is Russia’s main partner in Central Asia, the first to sign the Agreement on “Friendship, Cooperation and Mutual Assistance”, also impling military cooperation. Cooperation between the two countries in this field develops in several directions:

  • Formation of collective forces within the CSTO,
  • Military education and joint military exercises,
  • Trade of weapons and ammunition,
  • Formation of a common air defense system,
  • Cooperation of military bases.

After the collapse of the USSR, Russia occupied about 7% of the country’s territory for the use of military bases 8 in total. Recently, the famous Emba Air Defense School was closed and the territory was handed back to Kazakhstan. Currently there are only 5 military schools left covering about 11 mil. hectares, for which Russia pays approximately $200 million rent to Kazakhstan every year. The amount of money often becomes a cause of disagreement between the two sides, however as a result of mutual interest, military schools continue to operate.

For Astana the cooperation is not only a source of income, but also a stimulus for development of areas near military structures. For Moscow, military establishments in Kazakhstan are part of a national defense system, which works in favor of Russia’s interests.

Kazakh side mentions that no Russian military structure in the country is an element of Kazakhstan’s military defense. Only the joint air defense system of Russia and Kazakhstan is designed to ensure the security of the two countries. The latter was designed in 2013 to jointly protect the air threats.

Sary Shagan

O ne of the largest Russian military bases in Kazakhstan is the Sary Shagan missile defense system established in 1956. Russia developed it to test anti-missile weapons. Previously the missile defense system covered about 81200 square kilometers, 49200 square kilometers of which was in Karaganda. After the collapse of the USSR, most of the missile defense system was dismantled. According to some estimates it would take about 5-6 years and $15 bil. from Russia to build a new structure.

In 1996, an agreement was signed between the two countries, according to which Russia was committed to pay $19.97 mil. a year as well as to reimburse the expenses lost between 1991-1996 (about $99.85 mil.). However, changes were made in the agreement in 2005 and in 2006, and the annual rent became $18.932 mil. in 2005 and on April 16, 2015 it was further reduced to $16.276 mil. The changes in the amount were due to the reduction of the territories consumed by Russian military assets: a reduction of 1 mil. hectares in 2016.

For the first time in world history, in 1961 the missile defense system the anti-missile system “A” hit  the warhead of a ballistic missile. Later anti-missile systems were tested here known as the A-35 and A-135.

In total, about 400 missile launchers were carried out to the site, about 5500 launches of anti-aircraft guided missiles, as well as more than 900 ballistic missiles. According to the Ministry of Defense of Russia, there are 6 missile defense systems on the site, 12 anti-aircraft missile systems, 7 types of missile defense, 14 measuring equipment and 18 radar systems.


A nother Russian military base, radar node Balkhash-9 is located near the River Balkhash. It belongs to the Russian missile attack warning system. Dnepr station is in this node. Daryal-U radar node station was also here, but in 2004, it burnt down and in summer 2010 the remains of the abandoned building totally collapsed.

Balkhash-9 controls early warning of potential missile attacks. The technical means of the node allows tracking of 1300 objects with an orbit of 150 km to 2500 km, at a distance of about 3000 km. The system consists of 2 radar stations, which control possible new threats from the Pakistani direction, as well as the Indian Ocean particularly from the Bengal Sea missile station.

According to the agreement, the node infrastructures and the lands are the property of Kazakhstan and are leased to the Russian side for use.  Russia finances these operations as well as the maintenance and development expenses of Balkhash and the training of Kazakhstan’s command and engineering staff for joint activities and combat duty. Balkhash-9 provides information to the state and military control centers of Kazakhstan about the missile situation.

929th State Flight Test Center 

T he next Russian military base is the 929th State Flight Test Center, which has 3 missile defense systems 231, 171 and 85. This area is rented by Russia to test Russian Air Force weapons. The center annually conducts more than 220 independent tests, with at least 1600 flights per year.

Russia and Kazakhstan signed an agreement on the missile defense center on January 20, 1995. Since 2016, according to the amendments made to the agreement, Russia pays $3,081 mil. less than what was originally agreed because of 624 thous. hectares out of 749 thous. hectares were returned to Kazakhstan in 2015.


C urrently there are 4 military bases in Kyrgyzstan, for which Russia annually pays $4 mil. 794 thous. instead of the previous $4.5 mil. dollars. This change happened in 2020, when, as a result of the new measures, there was a discrepancy of about 58.32 hectares. There are often disputes between the two countries over rent. In 2011, Kyrgyzstan accused Moscow of not paying rent for up to 4 years, after which Russia ended up coughing up about $15.5 mil., as well as $1 mil. free military aid. The reason for its refusal to pay the Russian side explains was by the unstable situation in Kazakhstan during those particular years. Kyrgyzstan’s internal political situation was quite volatile in the 2000s. The revolution of “tulips” happened in 2005 and the revolution of “melons” in 2010, which also affected its foreign policy and the military bases in the countries.

Kant Air Base

T he largest Russian military base in Kyrgyzstan is the Kant Military Airport, which dates back to 1941. It reopened after 2003, when Russia and Kyrgyzstan signed an agreement on the opening of the airport within the framework of the CSTO Collective Security Treaty Organization. According to the agreement, Russia refused to pay for the base as it was considered as an integral part of the CSTO. The main goal of the air base is to support the CSTO rapid deployment forces from the air. It is part of the Air Force and the 14th Air Defense Army of the Russian Federation.  250 Russian officers and 150 emergency servicemen serve here. There are also 10 planes and 14 helicopters. In 2005, during the crisis in Kyrgyzstan, there were 6 military transport planes here to evacuate the Russian population. The situation around the military base became tense, when Kyrgyz President Atambayev announced that the Russian Kant base, as well as the American military base located in international Manas Airport in Bishkek should be closed. However, the Russian military base remained, whereas the American base closed, after which Kant began to carry out larger activities.

Rumors about the closure of the military base reopened again in December 2016, when President Almazbek Atambayev announced on a possible end to the agreement, in response to which, on February 2017, President Vladimir Putin said, that if Kyrgyzstan has become so strong that it doesn’t need a Russian military base, the Russian military will leave immediately. As a result of the meeting between the two country’s leaders, Putin noted that he would relieve about $240 mil. debt and the military bases would continue to operate. 

Russian Navy 954th anti-submarine test base (Karakola)

This is the highest mountain base of the Russian navy, at an altitude of 1609 meters above sea level. It is situated near the city of Karakol. Its history dates back to 1943.

The 954th military base is testing new deep sea torpedoes. After the establishment of the Russian “Kant” airbase in Kyrgyzstan, the naval base is also responsible for searching and rescuing aircraft flights to Lake Issyk-Kul. The base also includes a Russian-Kyrgyz joint venture, which develops new and tests serial torpedoes (Russia owns 95% of the shares). According to the bilateral agreement, which underwent some amendments in 2012, Russia pays $0.5 for each square kilometers of the 55 hectares of territory and $0.1 for the 171.53 hectares of water area.

Autonomous Seismic Station

T he Autonomous Seismic Station is in the town of Mailuu-Suu, in the area of the dissolved 17th Radio-Seismic Laboratory. It is part of Russia’s Defense Ministries special control, which is engaged in remote recording of nuclear explosions. The agreement on the Seismic Station was signed in 1994, which also made some changes in 2012. In exchange for renting the seismic point, the Institute of Seismology of the Kyrgyz National Academy of Sciences and the authorized body for emergency situations receive operational and other information on the coordination of earthquakes, time and magnitude in the country.

Marevo naval base

T he 338th base, Marevo, ensures communication with the General Staff of the Russian Navy with military submarines. The communication center, which was commissioned in 1974, is located in Kara-Balta. It is similar to the Vileyka naval communication center in Belarus and is designed to provide long-distance communication control of ships and submarines as well as to transmit accurate time signals. The unit is equipped with a 1000-KW super-long-wave radio station Prometheus. According to the agreement, Russia pays $0.5 for each square meters (811.2 hectares).


U nlike Kazakhstan, the situation in Tajikistan became tense after independence: the civil war between the ruling forces and the United Tajik Opposition began in the country. At the same time, extremist forces in neighboring Afghanistan promised to help their opposition “brothers”.

The Russian forces, which were a deterrent to Afghan extremist Islamic groups on the Tajik-Afghan border in 1992-2005, acted in support of the government. Border guards prevented illegal entry of drugs from Afghanistan to Europe.

During the years of Russian border guards taking control in those years, more than 530 clashes and 1600 infiltration attempts took place on the Tajik-Afghan border. 161 Russian border guards were killed and 362 were wounded in the fighting. They killed about 3000 militants and seized more than 30 tons of drugs, including 11.4 tons of heroin.

The first large-scale attack by the Afghans took place on June 13, 1993, when a group of Afghan Mujahideen invaded Tajikistan at the 12th border checkpoint. After about 11 hours of fighting, they were pushed back. The last battle for the border guards was in April 2003, when 120 militants tried to cross the River Panj. During the 3-hour battle, the group was destroyed.

In 2005, Vladimir Putin ordered the withdrawal of the border group from Tajikistan. Control over the border was passed onto Tajik security forces. Some associate this with NATO and US forces, which have entered Tajikistan since 2002. However, Russia maintained its military presence in the Republic. In 2004, by President Putin’s order, the 201st Division was established on the basis of the 201st rifle units.

201st Division is the largest Russian ground force outside the country located in 3 cities Dushanbe, Kurgan-Tuba and Kulyab. Based on the agreement signed between the Russian and Tajik defense ministers in Dushanbe in 2012, the Russian Armed Forces are expected to be present in Tajikistan until 2042. The document also provides diplomatic status to the staff of the Russian base and their family members.

The main goal of the military base is to prevent terrorist attempts and drug trafficking, satisfying the interests of all CSTO allies. Military staff have repeatedly participated in the CSTO “Fighting Brotherhood” military exercises. The 201st military base announced that it can carry out CSTO commands at any time. There are 7500 fighters in the military base. In 2020, it is planned to increase their number to 9000. The military base includes 3 missile defense centers, as well as 400-room hospital. 

The main function of the 201st military base is to train Tajik fighters, teach them how to use Russian weapons, as well as to help in combat operations. Since 2016, every year Russian officers train a thousand specialists in the Tajik Armed Forces. The military base is constantly replenished with military equipment. Since September 2015, the Russian air group has appeared here, armed with Mi-8 and Mi-24 helicopters. In 2020, 8 modern rear combat vehicles were brought.

Nurek Optic-Electronic Station

N ear the town of Nurek in Tajikistan, at an altitude of 2216 meters above the sea level, there is a “Window” or “Nurek” Optic-Electronic Space Tracking System, which is part of Russia’s space management system.

Its construction began in 1961 and was completed in 1980. After the collapse of the USSR and due to the 5-year civil war in Tajikistan the structure was completely abandoned. It was only in 1999, that the combat duty was restored here and it was fully operational in 2014, and since 2015 they have begun to control space.

Several hundred officers and control soldiers serve in Nurek. They carry out daily combat duty there.

According to the bilateral agreement, Moscow doesn’t pay Tajikistan rent for the complex and the money is extracted from the state debt to Russia ($242 mil.).