Publication: Monitor Volume: 4 Issue: 16

In an apparent reaction to pressure from the U.S., Russian prime minister Viktor Chernomyrdin on January 22 ordered tighter government controls on Russian military technology exports. Although few details were available, the move reportedly targets so-called "dual-use" items — that is, technologies that can be used both in the private sector and in the production of weapons of mass destruction.

Chernomyrdin’s order, which reportedly was initiated by Russian president Boris Yeltsin, follows a recent intensification of efforts by Washington to stop the transfer of Russian missile technology to Iran. A special envoy dispatched by the Clinton Administration to Moscow earlier this month was said by U.S. officials to have won a pledge of action from Russian leaders. (See Monitor, January 19) In a follow-up to that visit, U.S. vice president Al Gore once again pressed Washington’s case during a January 17 phone conversation with Chernomyrdin. Officials in Moscow have confirmed the connection between the U.S. efforts and the new Russian export controls. They have also made the point, however, that the new controls apply to Russian military exports across the board, and not merely to those deals involving Iran. (AP, UPI, Russian agencies, January 22)

Moreover, Kremlin spokesman Sergei Yastrzhembsky on January 23 restated Moscow’s insistence that no Russian missile technology has made its way illegally to Iran. The head of the Russian Space Agency, Yury Koptev, made the same point in separate remarks to reporters the same day. Both men acknowledged, however, that Iranian officials had attempted to acquire the Russian technologies. They claimed that such efforts had been nipped in the bud. (AP, Russian agencies, January 23)

The remarks by the Russian officials are only the latest denial of accusations, voiced particularly by the Israeli government, that hundreds of Russian technicians are currently at work in Iran on a project to develop ballistic missiles. The Israelis have also charged that several Russian research organizations and companies, including Koptev’s space agency, are participating in the same project.

In light of such charges, the U.S. Congress has threatened to level economic sanctions on those Russian companies suspected of involvement. The cash-strapped Russian Space Agency, which is heavily dependent on cooperation with the U.S., is especially vulnerable to such threats. The Clinton Administration, for its part, has argued that the imposition of sanctions would harm Russian-U.S. relations in other areas. Administration officials have nevertheless used the threat of sanctions as a lever in hopes of winning greater cooperation from the Russian government in stemming the flow of missile technology to Iran.

No More Aircraft Carriers.