Joint Exercise Centre-2015 Under Way in Kazakhstan and Russia’s Central Military District

It was reported on September 8, 2015 that the Kazakh military had been ordered by the government to hold snap readiness checks, dubbed Centre-2015, in five regions of the country: East Kazakhstan, Almaty, Zhambyl, South Kazakhstan, and West Kazakhstan. The exercises will be conducted from September 14th-20th.

This is the first large scale snap check that has been conducted by the Kazakh Armed Forces, involving 10,000 soldiers (and over 2000 military vehicles and artillery) with over 2,000 vehicles and artillery. For this exercise, the soldiers will first be mustered to combat readiness then transported to unfamiliar territory far from their normal area of deployment.

Russian soldiers rehaearsing for Centre-2015.
Russian soldiers rehaearsing for Centre-2015.

As part of Centre-2015, Kazakh forces will be operating jointly with the Russian military. Russian soldiers are participating in the exercises conducted in the Western and Eastern military districts of Kazakhstan, in conjunction with a group operating in Central Military District. According to Russian reports, there will be a total of 95,000 soldiers taking part, 7,000 land-based vehicles, 170 aircraft and 20 ships (via the Caspian Fleet). It appears to be just Russian and Kazakh forces taking part.

Gulmurod Khalimov, former commander of OMON.
Gulmurod Khalimov, former commander of OMON.

These timing of the exercises does not seem accidental. Given the upswing of violence in neighbouring Central Asian countries, including the attempted attacks in Bishkek at the end of Ramadan by Islamic militants (reportedly led by a Kazakh national), Tajik OMON Col. Gulmard Khamilov’s defection to ISIS and the recent attacks in Tajikistan, having a significant show of force through snap readiness checks can be a good way to deter potential insurgent strikes. Particularly when combined with the Russian military, it demonstrates the interoperability and cohesion of the two nations, both of which share a mutual interest in the other’s security and territorial integrity with Centre-2015 occurring under the umbrella of the CSTO.

While there is some conflict occurring within Central Asia, and given the nature of the exercises, with the objective of practicing the localization of international armed conflict in Central Asia, the recent uptick is likely one of the driving forces behind these exercises. While Russia conducting such a large exercise is not abnormal, the size of Russia’s involvement may also be partly in response to the ongoing large-scale NATO exercises like Trident Juncture. Despite the shared objective of the exercise in the preservation of stability in Central Asia, Russia’s goals from Centre-2015 may differ from those of Kazakhstan’s. While a show of their joint capabilities, the nature of the exercise appears non-threatening towards NATO interests, and demonstrates the scale of commitment the CSTO is willing to use to preserve regional stability in the face of an increasingly radicalized population.

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