US dismantles Russian arms

Doug Henwood dhenwood at
Tue Apr 20 22:36:29 PDT 1999

Boston Globe - April 20, 1999

Disarming of Russia continues By David Filipov

SERGIYEV POSAD, Russia - Relations between the United States and Russia may have reached their lowest point since the fall of the Berlin Wall, but remarkably, that has not stopped a US-funded program to dismantle the decaying, but still deadly, nuclear arsenal of the former Soviet Union.

At a secret defense factory in this industrial town north of Moscow, Russian submarine-launched ballistic missiles, which were once aimed at US cities, are being disarmed and dismantled - with American equipment and funding.

A nearby training center for Russia's strategic rocket forces uses techniques and equipment supplied by US specialists to weed out Russians unfit to work with Moscow's nuclear weapons.

Even as Moscow wages a war of words with Washington over the conflict in the Balkans, more than $1 billion in US-funded projects to reduce the threat posed by Russia's weapons of mass destruction have continued almost unabated.

The hardiness of these projects, commonly referred to as the ''Nunn-Lugar'' program after its Congressional sponsors, former Senator Sam Nunn and Senator Richard Lugar, provides a measure of geopolitical comfort despite a chill in US-Russian relations not seen since the end of the Cold War.

The staying power of these joint projects despite hard times in the relationship even suggests a model for how the West could have better used the billions of dollars it spent to support Russia's sporadic, and so far largely unsucessful, attempts at economic reform.

''The Russians see real results from Nunn-Lugar money,'' said Pavel Felgenhauer, defense analyst for the Moscow daily Segodnya. ''Unlike other aid, where all of the money was spent and nothing changed, with Nunn-Lugar money concrete things did happen. So the Russians want to keep these programs, despite their suspicions.''

Russian politicians, and many ordinary citizens, are upset at the bombardment of a fellow Slavic, Orthodox Christian nation by NATO, an alliance that until a decade ago was the Cold War arch-enemy of the Soviet Union.

The Kremlin has consistently portrayed the United States as the aggressor in the Balkan conflict, and Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic, whom the West accuses of atrocities against ethnic Albanians, as the victim.

''Bill Clinton hopes to win, he hopes Milosevic will capitulate, give up the whole of Yugoslavia, make it America's protectorate. We will not allow this. This is a strategic place, the Balkans,'' President Boris N. Yeltsin said yesterday to a meeting of Russian editors and publishers. ''We simply cannot ditch Milosevic. We want to embrace him as tight as possible.''

Such sentiments have led to cancellation or postponement of dozens of joint initiatives between Russia and NATO because, in the words of one senior Russian commander, General Leonid Ivashov, ''they are no longer appropriate at this time.''

But across Russia, a number of Nunn-Lugar programs - which allow Americans access to highly sensitive and until recently, top-secret, technology - are still underway.

They include:

construction of a new storage site in the Ural Mountains to keep 6,000 bombs' worth of nuclear material out of the wrong hands;

a laboratory that will make it easier to keep track of Russia's 42,000 metric tons of chemical weapons, a stockpile capable of destroying all life on Earth many times over;

equipment and funding to help destroy ballistic missiles, missile launchers, strategic bombers and nuclear submarines under the 1991 Start I arms reduction treaty.

In the first days after NATO began its airstrikes, Russia asked that a planned review session of the program in Moscow be postponed.

''But nothing else has been canceled,'' said an American official close to the project. ''This is an incredibly tense and difficult time for us, and there are things to work out on both sides. They had to ask themselves a few questions. But we're moving forward.''

The Nunn-Lugar program was initially created when the Soviet Union collapsed and it became clear the successor states did not have the resources to eliminate the cold war arsenal. Since 1991, over $2 billion in US funds has gone toward eliminating 3,800 nuclear weapons in Kazakhstan, Ukraine, and Belarus - the entire nuclear arsenals of those countries - plus reducing Russia's arsenal by 96 submarine missile launchers, 50 missile silos, 273 strategic ballistic missiles and 30 bombers.

Under agreements already reached, an additional 711 missiles and many more submarine missile launch tubes will be eliminated. Other programs, such as improving security at 50 nuclear weapons sites, training personnel, and safeguarding transport and storage of fissile materials - are aimed at preventing the export of weapons of mass destruction from Russia.

At first, the Russian military had a difficult time getting used to the idea that Americans would pay to dismantle Russian weapons.

''At first there was a big psychological problem,'' said Igor Safranchuk of the Center for Policy Studies, a Moscow think tank that monitors strategic arms control issues. ''Russian scientists didn't believe that Americans would help. But when equipment and money started coming, the mood changed. There was a sense of humbled national pride, that Americans were financing disarmanent by Russia, but it passed.''

Commented the US official: ''It took time to build trust, to get on that base where you would have been shot dead a few years ago.''

US and Russian observers acknowledge that the Nunn-Lugar programs have only made a dent in Russia's legacy of the nuclear arms race. But sources on both sides call the program a success.

As recently as February, Gen. Igor Valynkin, who heads Russia's department for nuclear safety, praised the US aid, which he said included special containers for transporting Russian warheads, computers for keeping tabs on atomic weapons, emergency kits, and screening equipment such as polygraphs for the training center in Sergiyev Posad.

''All the computers [provided by the US] have been certififed by Russian specialists,'' Valynkin commented. ''They have no bugs or any other hidden devices to obtain secret information.''

Valynkin's remarks point to another success of the Nunn-Lugar program. While the officials in charge of economic reform in Yeltsin's governments have almost all been young economists who professed pro-Western views, the same could not be said about the old-line military officials and defense factory directors the US has dealt with under Nunn-Lugar programs. But it is the way Nunn-Lugar has worked, not the Russian participants' political leanings, that has made it successful.

''When the International Monetary Fund gave Russia credits, they would say, `now, restructure the economy','' said Safronchuk. ''Nunn-Lugar didn't work like that. They would say, `build this facility' or `destroy these missiles.' And when the work was done, then the Russians would get their money.''

The program has also established direct contact with Russian companies, said Russian and US sources, providing jobs and business at a time when most factories are at a standstill. This, too, is a reason why Nunn-Lugar has continued.

''Why should Russia refuse hundreds of millions of dollars? That would be foolish,'' said Alexander Pikayev, an arms control analyst at the Carnegie Moscow Center. ''Because Russia receives American money and technology, the US in return receives more transparency of the Russian nuclear infrastructure, and maintaining this is very important for the US.''

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