Publication: Monitor Volume: 2 Issue: 217

Israeli defense minister Yitzhak Mordechai on Saturday accused Syria of building nerve gas weapons with the help of Russian scientists. He warned that Israel, widely acknowledged to possess nuclear weapons, would "destroy" the regime of President Assad if those chemical weapons were ever used against Israel.

The potential proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, abetted by disgruntled and poorly paid Russian scientists, has been one of the nightmares of the post-Cold War era. And there has been some evidence that at least one Russian with strong ties to Russia’s chemical weapons complex has looked to the Middle East for profit. Both the U.S. and Russian authorities have investigated retired Lt. Gen. Anatoly Kuntsevich — who once headed the Russian Army’s Chemical Troops and is a member of the Academy of Sciences — on the suspicion that in 1993 he smuggled 800 kilograms of toxic chemicals to an unnamed country in the Middle East. It was also revealed that he tried but failed to smuggle out an even larger shipment of chemicals in 1994. (AP, October 23, 1995)

The Russians dropped the charges against Kuntsevich just last month. (Nezavisimaya gazeta, October 15) The U.S. was not as easy on him. In November 1995 the Clinton Administration imposed sanctions on Kuntsevich "for knowingly providing material assistance to a foreign chemical weapons program." The recipient of Kuntsevich’s shipment has not been made public. Unfortunately, there are several other likely candidates in addition to Syria. Both Iraq and Libya are known to have covert chemical weapons programs. Until the smuggling scandal broke last year, moreover, Kuntsevich had run as a candidate for parliament under ultra-nationalist Vladimir Zhirinovsky’s Liberal Democratic Party. Zhirinovsky has long called for Moscow to renew its Soviet-era ties with the radical Arab states, and the mercurial Russian politician has not had an unkind word to say about the rulers of Iraq, Libya, or Syria.

"Sovereign Republic of Balkaria" is Proclaimed.