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Kazakhstan Opens Naval Air Base, Intimidates Strikers?

Kazakhstan has established a small new air base in the western port city of Aktau, part of the country's push to strengthen its maritime defenses on the Caspian -- Aktau is also the base of the country's nascent navy. But it's also apparently engendering some suspicion among residents, who have been embroiled in recent oil- and gas-industry strikes and who see the presence of fighter jets as a means of domestic intimidation.

The 612th air base in Aktau will include two Su-27 fighter jets, seven Su-27 pilots and 12 helicopter gunship pilots, according to a report in Interfax-Kazakhstan (not online, via BBC Monitoring). The report doesn't say what kind of helicopters, or how many, but they're presumably Mi-24s.

The curious part of the story is how the locals reacted. Interfax cites a press release from the military:

[T]he fighter jets conducted training flights between 31 May and 22 June.

"By mere chance, the second training flight (...) coincided with the opening of a kindergarten and a district hospital in the Shetpe village. (...) The country's several publications suggested then that military fighters are aimed at intimidating the population. It was also suggested that the aircraft belonged to the head of the regional security service," the report said.

"The emergence of such rumours is related only to the fact that people in Mangistau are not accustomed to the sound of supersonic manoeuvrable aircraft," the report quoted the commander of the air base, Col Yerlan Kozgulov, as saying.

"During flights, the fighter jets produce a characteristic sound. Therefore, as it turned out, people in the region, who are not accustomed to such a roar, have began to invent various stories on this topic," he added.

For whatever reason, the story doesn't mention any context of why the population might think they are targets for intimidation, but this area has been the center of oil and gas company workers' protests, which of course are getting a lot of attention this week because Sting ostensibly canceled his concert in Astana in their support. Without any more information, it seems plausible that people are being paranoid and the exercises were unrelated to the strikes. But it's also plausible that they're not being paranoid and the military decided to kill two birds with one Su-27 -- take the jets out for a test ride, and let the disgruntled workers know who's boss.

Kazakhstan Opens Naval Air Base, Intimidates Strikers?

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