Publication: Monitor Volume: 5 Issue: 18

Over the past few weeks Russia’s government bureaucracy has at last moved to take some official action aimed at combating the Year 2000 bug. The Russian move is at least in part a response to intense prodding from the West, where some experts believe that crucial Russian computer systems, including those which control nuclear weapons and power plants, could be destabilized by the millennium bug. Moscow has been criticized for both failing to recognize the seriousness of the Year 2000 bug and moving late to deal with it.

A Russian expert on the computer problem told an audience in Washington on January 14 that Russian Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov had ordered the country’s Defense and Atomic Energy Ministries to prepare themselves for any possible “Y2K” problems. Primakov also reportedly said he would make funding for the effort available, despite the government’s financial crisis (AP, January 14). An official of Russia’s Atomic Energy Ministry followed up that action on January 21 with the announcement that all nuclear sites in Russia would be tested for compliance with Y2K standards. Ministry officials said that the tests should be completed by August (UPI, Itar-Tass, January 21).

More recently, on January 22, Primakov ordered the creation of a government commission that is tasked with finding solutions to the Y2K problem. The commission, to be headed by Deputy Prime Minister Vladimir Bulgak, is to consist of representatives of the ministries of defense, atomic energy, finance, and fuel and energy. There was no indication of how much funding Primakov had allocated for the project (AP, Itar-Tass, January 22).

Russia’s Defense Ministry, which had earlier dismissed the Y2K problem as insignificant, appeared to reverse itself on January 22. A ministry spokesman admitted that a problem exists and said that military experts were working on it. He refused to comment, however, on a Russian news agency report saying that a group of Pentagon experts are scheduled to visit Russia on February 10-12 to share information on the Y2K problem. According to the report, which was confirmed by a Pentagon spokesman in Washington, the U.S. experts are scheduled to visit Russia’s army headquarters and strategic nuclear missile sites to inspect nuclear warning systems (Reuters, January 26).

In a related development, officials from the sixteen NATO countries are scheduled–on Friday in Brussels–to hold a first meeting on the Y2K problem with Russian officials. The meeting will reportedly be mainly a confidence-building session aimed at reassuring the Russians about NATO’s own preparedness (International Herald Tribune, January 26). Although there have been warnings that Y2K problems could destabilize Russia’s nuclear weapons, NATO’s primary concern is said to be focused on avoiding malfunctions in Russia’s command and control systems, which could cause Moscow to mistakenly perceive a threat (AP, January 14).