Stories: Kazakhstan

  • A Silk Road Marriage

    ALMATY, Kazakhstan — As the sun sets over the city’s snowcapped mountains, Yerbolat and May Ospanov settle into the gray sofa. May slides her hands over Yerbolat’s, which lie clasped on his knee. Then, with a precision honed through countless recitations, they take turns listing the dozens of places they’ve lived together around the...

  • ‘Our Future Will Be Violent Extremism’

    AKTOBE, Kazakhstan — A quiet Sunday morning came to an end on June 5, 2016, as 27-year-old Dmitry Tanatarov led a group of 25 young men in what would become Kazakhstan’s largest terrorist attack ever. The group, whose ages ranged from 17 to 28, moved quickly down a dusty street in downtown Aktobe, an oil city in northwestern Kazakhstan, and seized weapons from...

  • Kazakhstan’s Lesson for Iran

    Due to the diplomatic deal reached in Geneva, the theocracy running Iran has half a year to decide if its potential nuclear-weapons program would make the regime more, or less, secure. Sure, if the country keeps its capability to weaponize, it may be harder for regional rivals or Western powers to push for regime change. But internal collapse...

  • JFK’s Most Underrated Achievement

    The spot where the Soviet Union blew up its first atomic bomb is an expansive, gently rolling part of the steppe in northeastern Kazakhstan. Between 1949 and 1989, the Soviet Union conducted more than 450 nuclear tests, over 100 of which were atmospheric, meaning the device was detonated on the ground or in the air. When I visited in August with a group...

  • Nuclear Steppe

      1. In north-east Kazakhstan, close to the Russian border, lies Kurchatov city, a small, rundown town that was once one of the USSR’s most closely guarded secrets. Kurchatov housed many of the USSR’s top scientists as they developed and tested the weapons that comprised the Soviet nuclear arsenal. The city appeared on no public maps...

  • Kazakhstan: No Longer Butt of Joke

    It doesn’t take more than a few minutes in Astana — Kazakhstan’s futuristic new capital — to make you forget what little you may have assumed about the country, most of it no doubt from a certain Sacha Baron Cohen movie. Until about a decade ago, Astana was “an insignificant provincial town,...

  • A Safer World at Ground Zero

    Standing at ground zero of the Soviet Union’s first nuclear-bomb explosion, it’s clear why the Kremlin saw this site as an ideal place to test its emerging nuclear-weapons program. Now part of modern-day Kazakhstan, the Semipalatinsk Test Site, or the Polygon, as it was informally known, stretches across a swath of...

  • Twilight for a Landmark in Arms Control

    During the Cold War, the Soviet Union ran a highly developed program to study infectious diseases such as anthrax, the plague and cholera, with an eye toward wiping out U.S. livestock. Now more than 60 years old, one such high-security lab sits decaying a short drive from the largest city in this former...

  • In the End Is the Beginning: Kazakhstan After Nazarbayev

    Kazakhstan has everything going for it: enormous natural resources from oil and gas to gold, uranium and rare earth metals; a young, multi-lingual population; and thousands of young foreign trained graduates, who return home every year under President Nursultan Nazarbayev’s Bolashak scholarship program. But behind Nazarbayev’s strong leadership are weak institutions, a puppet parliament, fettered...

  • New High-Tech Laboratory in Kazakhstan to Fight Plague Outbreaks

    In a dusty suburb near Almaty, Kazakhstan, where the Soviet-era buildings still hint at a different time, a slice of high-tech modernity has arrived—in the form of a $102 million biosecurity laboratory. The Central Reference Laboratory (CRL) will open in 2015 and offer high-security lab space for scientists to study dangerous diseases and provide early warning of potential outbreaks. ...