Publication: Monitor Volume: 7 Issue: 40

In an apparent response to recent Bush administration charges that Russia is guilty of leaking nuclear and missile technologies, the Russian government last week took a step ostensibly aimed at tightening up its arms export control regime. The Russian move came during a meeting of the country’s powerful Security Council on February 22, when President Vladimir Putin reportedly launched unexpectedly into criticism of various government ministries for their failure to exercise sufficient control over sensitive missile and nuclear technologies. “We are ready for a concrete dialogue in this sphere with NATO and European Union countries,” Putin was reported as saying, “because it concerns the important issue of nonproliferation of nuclear weapons and the means of their delivery.” Sergei Ivanov, a close advisor to Putin and the influential secretary of the council, was himself quoted as saying that “more countries are on the verge of having their own weapons of mass destruction,” and that “all this gives unprecedented importance to export control.” Ivanov is best known recently for the harsh, Cold War-style denunciation of U.S. missile defense plans he delivered during an important international security conference in Munich earlier this month.

The details of the February 22 Russian Security Council meeting were kept secret, and it was therefore not clear precisely which Russian agencies Putin had singled out for criticism. But reports suggested that the Russian Atomic Energy Ministry was probably one of them. If so, that would be something of a surprise. The ministry is headed by Yevgeny Adamov, a hardnosed bureaucrat whose aggressive advocacy of both increased nuclear power construction at home and increased nuclear exports abroad is assumed to enjoy the Kremlin’s enthusiastic support. Adamov has been a driving force in Russian nuclear construction projects–several of which have generated U.S. criticism–now underway in China, India and Iran.

Russian reports were also unclear as to exactly what steps the Security Council had decided to take to tighten up Russian arms export controls. But they suggested that various ministries had been ordered to draft improvements in Russian legislation dealing with the export of sensitive military technologies. The council’s action follows Putin’s creation just recently of an agency to oversee Russian military export policy–a special government watchdog commission headed by Deputy Prime Minister Ilya Klebanov. At present a host of Russian ministries are involved in approving Russian arms export contracts, including the Foreign and Defense Ministries, the Federal Security Service and Foreign Intelligence Service, the Atomic Energy Ministry and the Economic Development and Trade Ministry. Regional defense enterprises, however, can apparently bypass Moscow altogether by working through the presidential envoys. The Security Council last week reportedly created yet another special commission, the composition of which was not announced, to adjudicate between these various institutions and enterprises (Reuters, February 22; Kommersant, Nezavisimaya Gazeta, Vremya Novostei, February 23).

Whether last week’s Security Council meeting represents a sincere effort by the Putin government to allay U.S. proliferation concerns remains to be seen. The Clinton administration in its later years harped increasingly on concerns over Russian technology leaks. Those criticisms appeared to drive Moscow’s enactment of new federal legislation–and the creation of governmental oversight bodies–aimed at improving the Kremlin’s control over exports in this area. But Washington (and the Israeli government) came over time to charge that those moves had been in many ways cosmetic, and that the Russian government had not really committed itself in practical terms to shut off the flow of military technologies abroad, and particularly to Iran. The Bush administration will now have to decide whether Moscow’s latest moves mark a break with the past and an effort to get serious about the proliferation problem, or whether they are a smokescreen aimed at avoiding possible sanctions or punitive measures from Washington.

One area where there is little to suggest that Moscow will move any time soon to address U.S. concerns is Russian-Indian nuclear cooperation. On December 16 the U.S. State Department released a statement calling on Moscow to cancel an agreement under which it is supplying nuclear fuel to the Tarapur power reactors near Bombay. The reactors are themselves under the supervision of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), but there are other nuclear facilities in India that are not. New Delhi, moreover, is pursuing a nuclear weapons program. For those reasons, the United States charged that Russia’s contract with the Tarapur facility puts Moscow in violation of its obligation as a member of the Nuclear Suppliers Group. The NSG, a grouping of nuclear exporting countries which regulates the export of nuclear materials, was itself highly critical of the Russian-Indian supply deal at a meeting that took place last month in Vienna. Against that background, the U.S. State Department statement charged that “Russia’s disregard of its [NSG] commitments… raises serious questions about Russia’s support for the goal of preventing nuclear proliferation.” The statement also made it clear that “Russia’s provision of sensitive technologies will be an important item on the U.S.-Russia agenda of the Bush administration” (Reuters, February 17).

Both Moscow and New Delhi, however, have rejected the U.S. demands. The Russian rejection reportedly came during a February 21 meeting in Moscow of leading officials from the two country’s Security Councils, when the Kremlin offered assurances that it fully intended to meet Russia’s obligations under the Tarapur supply contract. A day later, India’s Foreign Ministry spokesman said in a formal statement that India too was rejecting Washington’s demands. More recently, a Russian news report, referring to official sources, appeared to confirm Moscow’s determination to follow through on the nuclear supply contract with India. It quoted a Russian Security Council official, Nikolai Uspensky, as saying that Moscow had done its “best to remove the apprehensions of our Indian colleagues by explaining that we don’t see any reason for refusing to supply nuclear fuel” since, in Moscow’s view, the supply contact is fully consistent with Russia’s GNS obligations (Asia Times; February 22; Times of India, February 26).

In addition to the Tarapur nuclear supply deal, Moscow is also constructing two large 1,000-megawatt nuclear power reactors at the Kudamkulam site in India’s southern Tamil Nadu state, and has reportedly offered to build another four reactors there (Irish Times, February 21). Russian nuclear construction in India–as in Iran and China–is both lucrative for Moscow and is seen as promoting Russia’s geopolitical interests. For those reasons alone the Kremlin is likely, with respect to such nuclear constructions projects at least, to rebuff U.S. nonproliferation efforts, whatever Russia’s president might have said at the February 22 Security Council meeting.