Publication: Monitor Volume: 6 Issue: 83

As Russian-U.S. talks on arms control and other international issues continued yesterday in Washington, the two countries also resumed their jousting over long-standing U.S. objections to alleged improper Iranian-Russian military cooperation. The latest clash began on Monday of this week (April 24), when the U.S. government announced that it would level sanctions against Yuri Savelev, the rector of Russia’s Baltic State Technical University. The university itself was already one of seven Russian entities barred since July 1998 from U.S. trade and government assistance, and will apparently remain under U.S. sanction. But Savelev was targeted personally this week following his suspension from the university earlier this month by Russian authorities. He had been charged with violating procedures relative to the enrollment of Iranian students at the university. The Baltic State Technical University, located in St. Petersburg, is an engineering school that specializes in rocket science and has close ties to the Russian military (AP, April 4). U.S. (and Israeli) government officials have repeatedly accused the Russian government of failing to stem the flow of Russian missile technologies to Iran.

The U.S. action this week also included an announcement that sanctions would be lifted on two other Russian entities–the INOR Scientific Center and Polyus Scientific Production Association–which had also been penalized by Washington in July 1998 for their alleged contributions to Iranian missile development efforts. U.S. State Department spokesman James Rubin said on April 24 that the two “had ceased the proliferant behavior that led to the imposition of these penalties.” That means that U.S. trade restrictions are currently in place against seven Russian entities accused of having aided Iran’s missile development program (Reuters, AP, April 24; Nezavisimaya gazeta, April 26).

Despite the lifting of sanctions against the two institutes, Moscow reacted angrily yesterday to the news that Savelev would now face punitive action. The Foreign Ministry complained that the U.S. move is a “clear attempt to call into question the efficacy of measures taken by the Russian authorities in the case” of Savelev. That statement said that the Baltic State Technical University rector had been guilty only of procedural violations for enrolling Iranian students, and that Moscow had already punished him with a “reprimand and warning.” The ministry complained further that the U.S. move against Savelev constituted yet another attempt by the United States to apply domestic legislation to foreign citizens or organizations (Reuters, Itar-Tass, April 26).

Last month Moscow sharply criticized the signing into law by the United States of the Iran Nonproliferation Act, which empowers the president to sanction Russian companies for improperly leaking military technologies to Iran. Russia and a number of other countries, including some key U.S. allies, have questioned the legality of U.S. efforts to penalize third countries for doing business with governments which Washington has sanctioned (see the Monitor, March 3, 16).

There would appear to be some irony in this latest row. After announcing on April 4 that Savelev was suspended, the Russian Education Ministry said on the same day that Iranian students would no longer be allowed to study at the Baltic State Technological University. The decision, which apparently terminated the enrollment of seventeen Iranian students, was reportedly made in response to U.S. State Department allegations that the Iranian nationals were being taught how to handle missiles. A top Education Ministry official suggested to reporters that foreigners had not, in fact, received any such instruction. But he said that “considering the importance of the nonproliferation of missile technologies, we suggested that the university stop training Iranian specialists (AP, Itar-Tass, April 4; BBC, April 5).

Meanwhile, university officials, including Savelev, were reported to have been indignant over the Ministry of Education’s decision. They suggested that the university stood to lose US$22 million over eight years because of the decision. Savelev said that the contract for the Iranians to study in St. Petersburg had been approved by both the Federal Security Service and the Foreign Intelligence Service–Russia’s main domestic and foreign intelligence agencies–and he complained that the deal had been voided primarily because of a letter of complaint from U.S. Vice President Al Gore. Savelev, it might be worth mentioning, is the man who sacked several American business professors teaching at an institute affiliated to his own following the start of NATO’s air campaign against Yugoslavia last spring (NTV, April 25).

It remains to be seen whether the actions which the Russian government has taken againstthe Baltic State Technical University represent a first attempt by newly elected Russian President Vladimir Putin to enforce the sort of rigorous arms export controls urged so strongly by the Clinton administration. Putin is himself a former head of the Federal Security Service–an organization which some believe has actually helped to facilitate exchanges of military technology between Russia and Iran–and the action against the university may be little more than a token move aimed at placating Washington. Moscow, moreover, has shown no signs of loosening its ties to Tehran in other areas, despite warnings from the United States. Russia intends, for example, to continue, or even to expand, its nuclear cooperation with Iran. There have also been indications that Moscow will continue to deal arms to Iran, despite an earlier agreement that said all such deliveries would cease by the year 2000 (see the Monitor, March 22).