Russia’s getting a large amount of Western money to trash its weapons of mass destruction — and, argues Alexander Golts, Iran is lurking in the background.
It's well known that in Russia, when faced with insolvable problems, people wait for a miracle. And sometimes one occurs. For the last 10 years, Russia has not known how to liquidate 40,000 tons of chemical weapons and 150 aging nuclear submarines. The arsenal of chemical weapons and submarines still loaded with nuclear fuel present a real threat, but billions of dollars are required for their liquidation.
But behold, at the G-8 summit Russia was promised $20 billion for this very program. This seems to be the first material result of Russia's new foreign policy of cooperation with the West. But, strangely enough, only Sergei Kiriyenko, who heads the interdepartmental commission on the destruction of chemical weapons, called this a victory for President Vladimir Putin. In private, officials from the Nuclear Energy, Internal Affairs and Defense Ministry tediously reiterated that free cheese only comes in a mousetrap. In their opinion, it's far from certain Russia will receive the promised funds.
After all, the funds will be distributed only for certain concrete projects, which must be worked out and agreed upon, and the conditions under which these projects must be realized are quite strict.
The problem is that the potential donors have insisted on serious advantages for themselves, advantages that our country has refused to grant – even recently. Russia's partners tried to take into account anything that might conflict with the realization of the American-Russian Nunn-Lugar program. In part, it is a question of trying to observe what is supposed to be secret. Often Americans were strictly prohibited from even approaching programs for which they were paying to make safer. Therefore, Washington has always suspected that the Russian side was not spending money on what it was intended for.
But now Washington wants Russia to guarantee "adequate access to work areas for donor representatives," for which it is necessary to work out "mutually agreed upon and effective measures and procedures for monitoring, auditing and guaranteeing transparency."
Since aging submarines and the entire store of chemical weapons are slated for liquidation, they can hardly contain military secrets. But it seems that Moscow is not enthusiastic about demonstrating to the world the condition this junk is in after all these years.
Besides secrecy, for years Americans have been bothered by the problem of taxes and duties. The fatherland's bureaucrats have always strived to siphon this gratuitous aid into the meager Russian budget, and this was a primary concern for Washington. The Americans were not simply being stingy, but supposed their dollars were financing – if indirectly – activities about which they were less than ecstatic, such as the Chechen war.
Now, G-8 documents contain direct demands to exempt the aid "from taxes, customs, deductions and other duties." In addition, Russia must provide legal immunity to all Western participants in the program, something the Russians have always resisted doing. In many cases, realizing these demands requires changing Russian legislation and setting undesirable legal precedents. Of course, a joint declaration is not an international agreement. It only formulates the aims that need to be achieved. But the Western partners have made it quite clear that without tax exemptions and legal immunity, there won't be any money.
But that's not the half of it. What's more serious are the strict political conditions Russia will have to adhere to. Aid to Russia is the most important element in a global program to stop the spread of arms of mass destruction. G-8 documents show unequivocally that the aid is directly linked to Russia fulfilling its obligations regarding nonproliferation. "The global partnership will focus primarily on Russian projects," the statement reads, "whose primary responsibility is fulfilling the obligations and demands made of this country in terms of the global partnership."
It's not hard to guess what this demand means. In April, the United States halted funding of new aid programs in Russia, citing its failure to destroy biological weapons. In Senate testimony, a government representative stated that Moscow has "biological weapons with offensive potential."
The accusation is as serious as it is unproved. The 1972 convention does not prohibit the development of vaccines to protect a country against a biological-weapons attack. These can be developed only with specially created and very dangerous viruses and bacteria. The convention stipulates certain control measures for this, and Americans would like to be convinced that of four Russian laboratories en-gaged in military research, all the work is exclusively on vaccines. But at the same time, they would like someone to control the work in this area.
Russia, on the other hand, insists on complete equality. This demand is perfectly justified, and it's impossible to object to it – until such time as Russia is in dire need of aid. Some sources say the question of biological weapons caused a heated argument at the summit in Canada. It seems the West wants to expand the program for the destruction of chemical weapons and submarines to include the "offensive" potential of biological weapons, which Moscow was supposed to have destroyed 30 years ago.
Finally, the thorniest problem is Russia's relationship with Iran. Washington affirms that nuclear, chemical and biological weapons and rocket technology are leaking from our country to Iran. Russia is demanding proof, which the United States is having difficulty providing for fear of losing its information sources. Meanwhile, the Russian arms industry is making no secret of its hopes to sell a wide spectrum of arms to Iran. Many analysts do not rule out that the $20 billion might very well be a payoff to stop working with Iran. And such an exchange could be quite beneficial to Russia: Hopes of big profits from the sale of modern arms to Iran may be inflated. On the other hand, there is a camp of government officials lobbying to expand cooperation with Iran. And the question of whether or not nuclear submarines will be used does not worry them.