Priozersk (pronounced Pri-ya-zyorsk) is a military city known for its missile defense systems. It still holds a Russian military base. Located along the central Almaty-Astana road, you should visit if you are interested in the history of the Cold War. Lovers of ruins and eery reminders of a bygone era will also thorougly enjoy themselves hunting for treasure.
Are foreigners allowed to enter?
It is unclear. Police are stationed at the entry of the city, but when we entered in 2016, we were not stopped. We were driving on Kazakh license plates, though; I cannot vouch if they might stop a car with foreign license plates. In 2011, Ikuru Kuwajima reported (do click the link, the pictures are marvellous) that local officials were unconcerned, and nobody knew what type of permits a visitor should need.
Nonetheless, it is eerily quiet on the inside, and you get a queasy feeling of being watched. 10 minutes after we left Priozersk, Saule got a call. An unidentified voice asked her about someone who had the same name as a deceased relative of hers. The call came from Russia.
It felt very strange, and we could not make out what it was about. But it did not feel like a coincidence.
Sights and history
During the Cold War, Priozersk was the central hub for the surrounding military installations: the Sary Shagan missile test range, the Dunay ABM radar experiment, the Sary-Ozek missile launch and elimination site and the Balkhash-9 space surveillance radar station.
Visit these sites at your own risk; they are still considered restricted military areas and some are still in use. With a bit of daring, though, a lot is possible. The Don-2P site lies just outside of Priozersk (46.003056° 73.649167°), and a bit further down the road sits the fascinating SPRN Neman site.
Missiles and monuments
The town hall marks the center of town, with a large open square in front of it. The back door is the entry to a museum about the test range, but it was closed when we came.
The park behind the town hall hosts the main exhibition of missile defense systems. A highlight for enthusiasts must be the V-1000 Griffon. This missile made the world’s first interception of an incoming ballistic warhead on May 04, 1961. The Americans did not have an equivalent capability until 1984.
The golden Lenin in front of the Town Hall has disappeared, to be replaced with other, less controversial heroes of the Soviet era: Mimino and Cherepashka. A forlorn Lenin apparently still survives somewhere near the beach.
A fighter jet looms over the beach. The train station had just received a train full of military personnel when we got there, so we did not have a closer look. I did make out a “Glory to the Soviet army” in huge letters at the top.
If none of this sounds appealing, nearby alternatives for a stop-over are Bektau-Ata and Balkhash.
Have you been to Priozersk? Have more questions? Please visit our Priozersk forum topic for Q&A.