Russia’s Foreign Ministry has sharply denied yesterday’s Washington Post report alleging that in 1995 the Russian government may have negotiated the sale to Iraq of equipment used in the manufacture of biological weapons. In remarks to reporters yesterday, Foreign Ministry spokesman Gennady Tarasov dismissed the allegations in the report as "crude attacks." He said that "Russia has never concluded any deals with Iraq which violate the current sanctions procedures and it certainly has not supplied that country with equipment or materials which could be used for forbidden aims either in the biological or any other spheres." Tarasov also dismissed suggestions in the report of improper collusion between Iraqi and Russian authorities. He suggested that the information in the story could only have been leaked by the United Nations special commission on Iraq (UNSCOM), and said that Moscow would expect from UNSCOM an "appropriate denial" of the charges. (Itar-Tass, February 12)
According to the Washington Post report, UN inspectors in Iraq last fall discovered a document implicating Russia in a deal to sell to Iraq a large capacity (5,000-liter) fermentation vessel that could be used to develop biological weapons. Negotiations on the multimillion dollar deal were reportedly conducted by official delegations in the capitals of both countries. The document was said to have been written in July 1995, only months after the UN had raised concerns about an earlier purchase by Iraq of an exceptionally large quantity of biological growth material. Moscow has reportedly not replied to a UN request, made six weeks ago, for information about the document. The UN inspectors therefore remain uncertain if Iraq ever received the equipment.
As sensational as the alleged deal is, the Washington Post report carried other charges that are perhaps equally unsettling. Quoting unnamed officials from the UN, the United States and elsewhere, the report paints a picture of wide-ranging and clandestine collusion between Iraqi and Russian authorities aimed at undermining the work of UNSCOM in order to benefit Moscow and Baghdad politically.
The report suggests, for example, that Moscow has secretly attempted to manipulate the activities of UNSCOM’s military inspection teams. Russian intelligence operatives are also said to have spied on the commission and its personnel in New York and overseas. U.S. intelligence agencies have reportedly warned UN personnel that the Russian special services may be passing the information they collect on to Baghdad. The report points, finally, to what it suggests may be a close personal friendship between Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz and Russian Foreign Minister Yevgeny Primakov. According to former UNSCOM chairman Rolf Ekeus, it is possible that some proposals advanced by Primakov regarding Iraq are actually being prepared by Aziz. (The Washington Post, February 12)
Russian Defense Chief Assails U.S. for Iraq Policy.