Kazakhstan's biological weapon centers in 2018.
Time has passed and much has changed since the days of the Cold War.
And although stories of spies, secrecy, and fear of total annihilation are still as relevant as ever today, one gets the sense that the sense of dread was more intense in the decades leading up to the end of the USSR.
And nowhere are these memories fresher or more tangible than in Central Asia, a place where the past can still offer inspiration, sometimes in surprising ways.
A new company named Genome Cosmetics has just opened its initial production facility in the city of
Stepnogorsk in Kazakhstan, effectively becoming the first industrial cosmetics producer in the country.
According to company officials, their scientists have been developing and perfecting products for six years before starting manufacturing, seemingly confident of demand in the Kazakhstani market.
In statements to the press, Genome’s representatives indicated that their scientists had stumbled upon on a new chemical complex with highly nourishing and age-reversing properties.
The discovery had occurred while examining the pharmacological applications of certain natural extracts at a cellular level as part of a joint research program with German counterparts in 2011.
But this story has a dark precedent.
Stepnogorsk used to be a secret research facility for the Soviet Union’s weapons of mass destruction (WMD) program. When Kazakhstan declared independence from Moscow in 1991, the country effectively took over the entire Soviet arsenal located within its borders, including several nuclear warheads and several tons of uranium.
The city housed one of the world’s biggest bio-weapon production centers, including an industrial-scale facility capable of producing and weaponizing several hundred metric tons of anthrax and other biological agents.
At its height, Stepnogorsk was home to hundreds of scientists working on the most efficient ways to kill as many people as possible.
The facility was equipped with everything needed for the large-scale development of biological agents.
When the Berlin Wall fell and Kazakhstan became independent, President Nazarbayev made agreements with international institutions, encouraged by more than a little funding from the US, to repurpose those facilities for less evil designs. However, over the years, these projects by and large failed.
Millions of dollars in investment only brought about the abandonment of these high-tech facilities and a serious case of brain drain for the newly independent nation.
Now, decades later, the city is once again home to high-end biochemical research organizations, although this time they are focused on making people live longer, or at least look younger, instead of wiping out humanity.
Genome Cosmetics’ officials stated that the choice of location was due to the existing scientific infrastructure there.
In a sign of the times, the company’s services are completely internet-based, selling products through their website and thereby lowering overhead costs and improving competitiveness in the open market.
This could represent the first step in developing a chemical, pharmaceuticals, and cosmetics industry in Kazakhstan, as Central Asia gradually develops an interest in high-end and luxury products witnessed there in recent years.
In operation now, and just in time for Christmas, Genome expects to sell up to 20,000 units per month in the first year.
Traditionally not a major consumer region for beauty products due to the low average income, recent years of improved purchasing power in Kazakhstan have seen a consistent rise in spending on cosmetics.
Stepnogorsk, formerly synonymous with humanity’s desire for destruction, could yet become home to an industry focused on beauty, and a much-needed success story for Kazakhstan.