Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB) announced late last week that it had arrested three foreign citizens on charges of attempting to smuggle dual-use technology to Iran. The three, whose identity and nationality were not revealed, reportedly used several Russian private businesses as cover in trying to ship nearly twenty-two tons of alloyed steel to Iran. The shipment was to have reached Iran via Azerbaijan, an FSB spokesman said, adding that the steel might have been intended for use in manufacturing weapons delivery systems. The FSB portrayed the arrests as another example of Russia’s success in stopping the illegal transport from Russia of dual-use technologies — that is, those having both civilian and military applications. (Russian TV, April 7; AP, April 9)
The United States and Israel have charged repeatedly for over a year now that Russian technicians and scientists have been involved in Iranian efforts to develop ballistic missiles. Indeed, several U.S. newspaper reports have accused the FSB, the main Russian successor to the Soviet-era KGB, of serving as a middleman in these transactions. (See Monitor, February 27 and March 25) The Clinton administration has claimed some success recently in finally getting the Russian government to move actively against such technology leaks. Those claims remain unsubstantiated, however. U.S. lawmakers have threatened sanctions against Russia should cooperation with Iran continue. Last week’s announcement by the FSB is probably aimed at countering Washington’s accusations. As with a similar announcement last November, when the FSB said it had arrested an Iranian diplomat for trying to buy missile designs, the FSB’s latest claim is unlikely to convince many in Washington.
Moreover, last week’s announcement by the FSB came as an Israeli newspaper leveled a new charge at Moscow: that Russian underworld figures had helped Iran to acquire several nuclear warheads from the former Soviet republic of Kazakhstan. The Jerusalem Post, which ran two articles on the story, said in the second piece, first, that the transaction had occurred in the early 1990s and, second, that Iran had paid $25 million for two tactical nuclear warheads. A spokesman for Russia’s Atomic Energy Ministry on April 9 dismissed the allegations as "nonsense." He asserted that Moscow could account for all the warheads produced in the former Soviet Union. A U.S. Pentagon spokesman said that Washington has "no evidence whatsoever" that Iran had acquired nuclear warheads. (AP, April 8-10)
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