Publication: Monitor Volume: 4 Issue: 42

The frustrated efforts of UN inspectors to ferret out all of Iraq’s biological agents and weapons has also put the spotlight on Russia’s biological weapons (BW) program. Although Moscow (as the Soviet Union) signed and ratified the 1972 BW ban, Washington has repeatedly charged that Russia continues to develop new biological agents. President Boris Yeltsin has even admitted that an outbreak of anthrax in Sverdlovsk (now Ekaterinburg) in 1979 — four years after the BW convention entered into force — was caused by an accident at a military BW laboratory. This month Dr. Lev Fedorov, an environmentalist, charged that the agent involved was not anthrax at all but a new biological agent that he sarcastically labeled a "miracle of biological engineering." (Nezavisimaya gazeta, February 19) Several years ago Fedorov revealed Russian work on a new chemical weapon. American government analysts studying the Sverdlovsk spore called it a blend of at least four different strains of anthrax bacilli and speculated it had been developed to resist vaccines and antibiotics. (New York Times, February 3)

In 1992, Yeltsin promised that the BW weapons program would be shut down. That same year Kanatjan Alibekov, a doctor in the Russian army who had been the second-in-command of the BW weapons program, defected to the United States. This week Alibekov — a native of Kazakhstan who now goes by the name Ken Alibek — revealed that the program called for "hundreds of tons" of anthrax bacteria and lesser amounts of smallpox and plague viruses that would be loaded on ICBM warheads. He speculated that the Russians were continuing to develop new biological agents. (New York Times, February 25) Last week Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Valery Nesterushkin repeated that Russia was "strictly" fulfilling all its obligations under the BW convention. (Itar-Tass, February 26)

UN inspectors in Iraq have uncovered at least circumstantial evidence that there is in fact a Russian connection to the Iraqi BW program. In the past, Israel has also charged that some Russians were aiding a similar effort in Syria. Given the almost total lack of transparency or parliamentary accountability in Russian weapons programs, it will take far more than ritual Foreign Ministry denials to ease foreign concerns about these matters.

MINATOM Head Resigns.