Publication: Monitor Volume: 4 Issue: 227

The United States has long criticized Moscow for its cooperation with Iran on nuclear energy and in the development of ballistic missiles. Now Washington is reportedly reacting with concern to evidence that impoverished Russian scientists may be aiding Iran in the development of biological weapons.

Quoting Russian scientists and American officials, the “New York Times” reported yesterday that Iranian officials are scouring the former Soviet Union in an effort to recruit specialists from the vast biological weapons establishment created by Moscow during the Cold War era. One group of Russian scientists questioned by the newspaper said that most of the Iranian recruiting efforts had been rebuffed. They acknowledged, however, that at least five of their colleagues had gone to work in Iran in recent years. They said also that other scientists signed contracts that allowed them to do research work for Iran while continuing to live in Russia. American officials reportedly told the “Times” that many more Russian scientists have spoken of similar contacts with Iranian officials. These scientists were said to believe that Iran is currently developing a germ warfare arsenal.

Cooperation between Russian scientists and Iran in developing biological weapons underscores anew the receptivity of at least some of Russia’s now impoverished scientific elite to offers from abroad. At its height, the Soviet germ weapons program is believed to have employed more than 50,000 scientists and technicians. But the various labs, research and production facilities subordinated to the program have, like their counterparts in other areas of the Soviet defense industrial complex, suffered mightily since the dissolution of the USSR ushered in an era of rapidly declining defense budgets, funding shortages, and wage and payment arrears.

With such considerations in mind, the United States has moved to provide increased aid for Russia’s germ warfare specialists. The goal, according to the “Times,” is to keep the specialists in Russia and to help them resist offers not only from Iran, but from North Korea, Syria and China as well (New York Times, December 8).