Publication: Monitor Volume: 5 Issue: 24

A top Russian government official warned yesterday that his country will need up to US$3 billion to deal with the Year 2000 computer glitch. Russia had previously downplayed the likely impact of the Y2K problem, and the government last year had estimated the costs to counteract it at about US$500 million. Yesterday, however, Aleksandr Krupnov, chairman of the Russian Central Telecommunications Commission, said Russia had thoroughly reviewed the problem and arrived at the new, and significantly higher, estimate.

What Krupnov did not say was how Russia’s cash-starved government was going to pay that high a bill. With only 330 days left to resolve the problem, Krupnov said only that each Russian government agency would be responsible for finding the necessary funding to solve its own computer problems. He also appealed to the United States and NATO for help in fixing the computers which control Russia’s nuclear weapons. Russia wants all sides to “speak the same language” in addressing the Y2K problem, Krupnov reportedly said. “We’re in a critical situation in several areas”–including the Defense Ministry. Krupnov also identified–in addition to military facilities–oil pipelines and airports as being particularly vulnerable areas (AP, February 3; International Herald Tribune, February 4).

Western officials–both civilian and military–have long expressed concern over Russia’s tardiness in tackling the Y2K problem. Reacting to this concern, Moscow appeared at last to get in gear on January 14, when Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov reportedly ordered the country’s Defense and Atomic Energy Ministries to prepare themselves for any possible Y2K problems. Then, on January 22, Primakov ordered that a government commission–headed by Deputy Prime Minister Vladimir Bulgak–be created to oversee efforts at counteracting the computer glitch. Tellingly, however, he did not indicate how much funding was being allocated for the commission or resolving the problem (see the Monitor, January 27).

Krupnov’s remarks yesterday came as the director of the CIA, George Tenet, told U.S. lawmakers that the Y2K bug could interrupt energy flows “in certain countries.” Tenet suggested that Europe was a potential victim of this sort of mishap because it receives more than one-third of its natural gas from Russia. The Russian gas giant Gazprom has apparently not yet dealt in full with the Y2K problem. A Western defense analyst, meanwhile, warned that nuclear power plants in Russia–and elsewhere in the world–could also be among the facilities affected by the computer bug. Paul Beaver, an analyst with Jane’s Information Group in London, was quoted as saying that “nuclear plants won’t be able to get accurate temperature information, and you could have another Chernobyl” (AP, February 3; International Herald Tribune, February 4).

Western military specialists are reported to be primarily concerned not with a possible accidental launch of a nuclear missile, but with the impact that the Y2K bug could have on Russia’s command and control systems. A failure there could cause Moscow to mistakenly perceive a threat (AP, January 14). With this concern in mind, the United States has proposed putting Russian officers in American control rooms and American officers in Russian ones to monitor the millennial changeover. According to earlier reports, Pentagon experts are also scheduled to visit Russia on February 10-12 to share information on the Y2K problem (Reuters, January 26).