Kazakhstan: Deadly Border Incident Pinned on Smugglers

A deadly shooting on the border between Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan has provided a grim illustration of the limitations in the free circulation of people and trade between the two nations despite the optimistic forecasts of those championing the Eurasian Economic Union.

The incident occurred on the evening of August 12 when Kazakhstani border guards in the Zhambyl region intercepted a group of around 15 people illegally passing through a gap in a barbed wire fence. Border officials said in a statement that when their men confronted the group, they were pelted rocks and other objects.

Military prosecutors said in a separate statement that the two border officers that sought to intercept the crossing first fired a warning shot in the air.

“But the unknown persons continued to throw stones at the border guards, as a result of which both soldiers sustained wounds to the head. Consequently, [one of the soldiers, P.A.] Yergesh fired twice at the attackers — one of the gunshots struck one of the offenders in the head,” read the statement, as cited by TengriNews.

The man killed was named as Y.D. Amirtayev, a resident of a village in the Zhambyl region. All the trespassers were reportedly citizens of Kazakhstan.

Military prosecutors noted that the aim of creating the gap in the border was apparently to smuggle horses into Kazakhstan from Kyrgyzstan.

Border officials in Kyrgyzstan noted on August 15 that they believe the clash must have occurred well inside Kazakhstani territory, since none of their own troops were involved.

“If the incident had occurred inside a border boundary zone (where both border services may be patrolling) or on the border itself, then a intergovernmental meeting would have been summoned. We can state that the shootout occurred unequivocally on the territory of Kazakhstan,” the Kyrgyz border service was cited by Sputnik news website as saying in a statement.

Despite the Kyrgyz government’s swift insistence that its citizens were not involved in this specific episode, the existence of an operation to smuggle horses and possibly other livestock from Kyrgyzstan strongly implies a transnational scheme.

The failure to ensure the lowering of barriers in the trade of livestock, as well as vegetables on occasion, among members of the Eurasian Union — which Kyrgyzstan joined in great haste in 2015 — has been one of many signal disappointments of the bloc. Indeed, harmonization of standards has faltered pretty much across the board, undermining the credibility of the entire exercise.

Not that anybody could blame regulators in Kazakhstan, Russia and other EEU members for wishing to impose strict regulations on livestock imports from Kyrgyzstan, which is still occasionally struck by instances of anthrax outbreaks and other similarly exotic occurrences. Then again, Kazakhstan has as recently as 2016 seen its own cases of anthrax poisonings as far north as the central region of Karaganda. And Russia and Kazakhstan alike have over the past decade reported instances of Crimean–Congo hemorrhagic fever, a deadly illness spread by ticks among people, wild animals and livestock. Standards are clearly wanting all around and are challenging to uphold over vast and thinly populated areas.

In the absence of any especially sustained and aggressive action to raise and then harmonize sanitary standards in the agricultural sector across the entire trading bloc, smuggling will continue to flourish.

Kazakhstan: Deadly Border Incident Pinned on Smugglers

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