Kazakhstan was the third most important producer of gold in the former Soviet Union, behind the Russian Federation and Uzbekistan. 1 In 1991 it produced 24 tons of gold (about 9 percent of the total Soviet production), which was divided nearly equally between output from gold mines and as a byproduct of mining at the many polymetallic nonferrous metals deposits in the country (Sagers 1998a). There is general agreement that Kazakhstan’s gold reserves went relatively undeveloped by the Soviets, unlike its ferrous and nonferrous metals reserves. As but one example, while some $22 million was invested in mapping prospective gold deposits in the Zhambyl region, less than 9 percent of Zhambyl’s indicated reserves had been mined (The Mining Journal December 9, 1994:418). Even with the often detailed exploration conducted by Soviet geologists, and more recent updates by the many Western companies with exploration licenses, estimates of the size of the reserves of gold in Kazakhstan have been at least as variable as have been the estimates of oil reserves. Roskill (1998) put reserves at 1,000 tons; Levine (1998b) estimated them at around 800 tons; and, Wilson (2002) and an Interfax survey put proven reserves at 1,500 tons (ICACBR Mar 5-11, 2001). If reserves are approximately 1,500 tons, Kazakhstan would rank ninth in the world in terms of reserves and fourth in the world by the average grade of its ores (Wilson 2002).
There is general agreement about which are the most important deposits in Kazakhstan - Bakyrchik and Suzdalskoye near Auezov in East Kazakhstan, Vasilkovskoye near Stepnogorsk in North Kazakhstan, and Akbakai in Zhambyl (see Figure 6.2). More generally, Kazakhstan’s gold deposits cluster in the three areas defined by these mining operations - in the east, in the north, and in a more central area from Lake Balkhash westward. Between 1992 and 1997, all of the major operating mines were offered for sale to foreign investors, many of them more than once. The government also sought foreign investment to explore and develop many other areas, and by 1997 one of the foreign companies with exploration licenses could claim it was the largest mineral exploration land-holder in Kazakhstan with nine licenses in five joint ventures covering 9 million