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Biological Last updated: January, 2014

The Russian government asserts that it does not maintain a stockpile of biological weapons or engage in any illegal development or production activities.

As the legal successor of the Soviet Union, Russia inherited its status as a party to the Geneva Protocol and the Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention (BTWC) in 1992. The Soviet Union signed the BTWC in 1972 and ratified it in 1975, the year the treaty entered into force.

Western officials and analysts have expressed concerns regarding Russia's compliance with the BTWC. Like any country with significant pharmaceutical and biotechnological sectors, Russia possesses significant dual-use life sciences infrastructure and expertise that could be applied toward an offensive biological warfare (BW) program. This dual-use dilemma is further exacerbated by the fact that the USSR covertly operated an offensive BW program in contravention of the BTWC for more than fifteen years. Considerable uncertainty remains regarding the dismantlement status of these inherited capabilities.

Tables for Soviet Russia's
BW Program (1973-1992)
 

Russia's BW program legacy poses biological proliferation risks and environmental contamination challenges. With extensive international assistance, Russia has taken steps to mitigate biological proliferation risks—however, the majority of nonproliferation programs since the collapse of the USSR have addressed nuclear rather than biological threats. Analysts continue to express proliferation concerns over the security of Russia's pathogen culture collections, which have not been consolidated, and the possibility that former Soviet BW scientists could be recruited into BW programs elsewhere.

History

The Biological Armament Calculus over Two World Wars: 1920s to 1972

The Soviet Union signed and ratified the Geneva Protocol, in 1928 but declared that it would only be bound by the treaty in relation to the actions of other parties. According to the USSR's interpretation of the Geneva Protocol, it was a "no-first-use" treaty. [1] Moreover, since the Geneva Protocol only prohibited use, the USSR pursued an offensive BW program.

The Soviet Red Army continued Tsarist efforts to develop chemical and biological weapons capabilities after World War I and the Russian Civil War. Joseph Stalin created the Military Chemical Agency (MCA) in 1925 to serve as the main authority for chemical and biological warfare preparedness. Early tests on animals using Bacillus anthracis, the causative agent of anthrax, convinced MCA Director Jacov Fishman of the feasibility of bacteriological warfare. In 1928, Fishman recommended to military leaders that an offensive BW program should be organized. The MCA, controlled by the Ministry of Defense, managed the resulting offensive BW program, which included the involvement of the health and agriculture ministries. [2]

The MCA created new, dedicated weapons facilities, and recruited expertise for the BW program from a number of longstanding biological research institutes. Scientists evaluated the weapons utility of a wide range of bacteria, including the causative agents of anthrax, brucellosis, cholera, glanders, leprosy, melioidosis, plague, tetanus, tuberculosis, tularemia, typhus, and Q fever. Early Soviet bioweaponeers also assessed foot-and-mouth disease virus for use against cattle. [3]

The program established a number of island testing sites. In accordance with Fishman's 1928 recommendations, Gorodomyla Island in Lake Seliger and Vozrozhdenie Island in the Aral Sea served as open-air test sites in the 1930s. Scientists assessed the efficacy of several dispersal methods, including aerosol generators, bacteria-filled containers dropped from aircraft, explosive capsules, and insect and rodent vectors. [4] Additionally, scientists performed tests on human subjects on one of the Solovetskii islands in the White Sea. Inmates at a prison camp on the island served as the test subjects for the causative agents of typhus, Q fever, glanders, and melioidosis.[5]

Beginning in the late 1930s, three events shaped the evolution of the Soviet BW program. First, the Stalinist purges of the late 1930s sent scores of eminent biological scientists, and sometimes entire research teams, to imprisonment or execution. For example, Ivan Mikhailovich, the top scientist responsible for coordinating and managing the Soviet BW program, was executed in 1938.

Secondly, biologist Trofim Lysenko's influence over the Soviet biological sciences rose significantly. Stalin's active support of Lysenko's theories on biological inheritance led to the suppression of Mendelian genetics, thereby suppressing advances in the biological sciences in the Soviet Union until Lysenkoism was finally discredited three decades later. [6]

Thirdly, World War II influenced the direction of the Soviet BW military doctrine and program. According to Ken Alibek, a key former Soviet bioweaponeer who defected to the United States in 1992, prior to WWII the Soviet Union explored biological agents with a "primary interest in developing battlefield weapons." [7] Fishman's 1928 report noted the utility of bacterial agents for battlefield operations on both the enemy's front lines and rear areas. [8] However, Alibek notes that a devastating tularemia outbreak in the Red Army at Stalingrad in 1942, an event he claims was inadvertently caused by Soviet use of tularemia against the German army, demonstrated the danger and unpredictability of biological warfare in a tactical setting, and shifted Soviet BW military doctrine away from tactical battlefield use. [9] Though compelling, Alibek's account of the Red Army's tularemia attack against the Germans was challenged by outside experts. [10]

During the Soviet invasion of Manchuria, the Red Army captured Japan's primary BW research and development unit, located in the Pingfang District south of Harbin, China. Japan's Unit 731 was responsible for as many as several hundred thousand casualties, primarily Chinese, due to human experimentation and military operations throughout the Second Sino-Japanese War (World War II). [11] Japanese servicemen and documentation introduced the Soviets to new insights into the possibilities for biological warfare, such as "blueprints for biological warfare assembly plants, far larger and more complex than" what the Soviet Union possessed. [12]

The Soviet BW program also contained elements dedicated to defense against biological threats. Fishman's 1928 report included plans to develop a defensive program against bacteriological attack and recommended that defensive and offensive responsibilities be assigned to separate organizations. [13] Before and during WWII, Soviet military scientists devoted significant attention to developing vaccines against BW-threat agents, such as anthrax, plague, and tularemia. This increased Soviet production of antibiotics, and in the post-war years, Soviet scientists successfully developed aerosol vaccines for mass immunization of humans and animals against a variety of agents, including smallpox, as well as oral and topical vaccines. [14]

From approximately the end of WWII to sometime in the 1960s, biodefense activities reportedly occurred under a program codenamed Problem 5, which tapped into the research and expertise of civilian facilities. A particularly important resource utilized by Problem 5 was the Soviet Anti-Plague (AP) System, a vast network of research institutes and stations run by the Ministry of Health focused on controlling endemic infectious diseases and preventing the introduction of foreign pathogens into Soviet borders. In fact, all AP institutes were to some extent involved in Problem 5 through activities aimed at developing therapeutic drugs and other safety measures to defend against the deliberate use of disease as a weapon. [15] The Soviets also created specialized epidemic control teams, which were "nonmilitary civil defense formations mainly intended for wartime" with rapid deployment capabilities. [16]

Many details about Soviet biodefense remain undisclosed. Questions concerning exactly when Problem 5 commenced, the extent to which Problem 5 activities overlapped with the offensive program, and the details of biodefense activities taking place in other agencies are not fully answered. Reports suggest that some AP institutes provided biological materials and performed collaborative research with institutes belonging to the offensive BW program. [17] However, the precise nature and frequency of such collaboration remains unclear.

The Rise of a BW Goliath: 1973 to 1992

After U.S. President Richard Nixon forswore biological weapons in 1969, the United States, United Kingdom, and Soviet Union negotiated the Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention (BTWC), which entered into force in 1975. Despite the BTWC's prohibition of offensive development, production, and stockpiling activities, the Soviet Union covertly expanded and modernized its BW program in the midst of its accession to the BTWC. [18]

In 1973, Soviet General Secretary Leonid Brezhnev issued a secret decree to initiate a program codenamed Enzymes (Fermenty), aimed at modernizing and expanding the Soviet BW program. [19] The decree added new layers of complexity, secrecy, and compartmentalization to the Soviet BW program. Of particular note was the establishment of a new civilian BW group, an agency named the All-Union Science-Production Association (Biopreparat) under the purview of the Ministry of Medical and Microbiological Industries.

The new Soviet BW complex comprised a network of dozens of research, development, production, testing, and storage installations spanning a handful of agencies, primarily the "civilian" Biopreparat, the Ministry of Defense, and the Ministry of Agriculture. (See Table I for information on the major facilities). Institutes under the Ministry of Health, including the aforementioned AP institutes, were also involved in BW-related research. The Academy of Sciences performed an advisory role to the Council of Ministers and Central Committee, which took on the program's highest funding and management roles. [20]

Beginning in the 1970s, the order of magnitude with which the Soviet BW complex operated became amplified. The expansion of the program, and in particular the creation of Biopreparat, created quantitative growth in the Soviet BW program, with sharp increases in personnel and funds. While the BW facilities controlled by the Ministry of Defense ramped up their activities and continued to carry out BW trials at Vozrozhdenie Island, Biopreparat quickly became a new center of activity for the Soviet program. Estimates put the number of people employed by the BW complex at around 65,000, with the largest segment (30,000 to 40,000, including approximately 9,000 key scientists and engineers) in Biopreparat, and the amount of money spent at 100 to 200 million rubles per year at the height of the program. [21] By 1990, Biopreparat included about 38 facilities, though not all were dedicated to BW activities; Biopreparat performed legitimate pharmaceutical and biotechnological research and development, which helped cover BW activities. [22]

The military microbiological institutes controlled by the Ministry of Defense employed approximately 15,000 individuals in at least a dozen installations. The Ministry of Defense controlled BW stockpiles, the primary peacetime production facilities, and was responsible for deployment in the event of war. (See Table II for the options considered for BW delivery). [23] The BW complex produced tens to hundreds of tons of anthrax, plague, and smallpox annually to maintain stockpile quotas. [24] Some facilities under Biopreparat also contained a mobilization capacity for rapid production of BW agents and loading of munitions during a time of conflict. [25] Meanwhile, the Ministry of Agriculture employed approximately 10,000 scientists to work on anti-crop and anti-livestock weapons under a sub-program codenamed Ecology. Under this sub-program, the Soviet Union reportedly developed weapons to target poultry, cattle, and swine, as well as wheat, rye, corn, and rice. [26]

The bolstered Soviet BW program also qualitatively expanded the scope of its research and development agenda. Soviet scientists evaluated the military application of approximately fifty biological agents and ultimately weaponized about a dozen anti-personnel agents. (See Table III for details on the BW agents weaponized and evaluated). In addition, Biopreparat led efforts to genetically engineer pathogens to enhance their value as weapons of war. [27] A key proponent of the Soviet decision in the 1970s to overhaul its BW program was Yuri Ovchinnikov, vice president of the Soviet Academy of Sciences at the time, and a preeminent molecular biologist, who recommended introducing western biotechnological advances into the Soviet BW program. [28] As a result, Soviet scientists engineered pathogens to achieve greater virulence, higher stability, resistance to therapeutics, and entirely novel pathogenic factors, including engineered viruses that not only caused normal viral infections but also produced deadly toxins. [29]

Additionally, the Soviet BW program implemented a new level of compartmentalization that shrouded the full scale and scope of the program even from senior officials of the Politburo. [30] While past decisions had been made to nest certain elements of the Soviet BW program within civilian agencies (such as the Ministry of Health) to avert foreign suspicions, [31] the creation of Biopreparat to serve as a civilian front to conceal offensive BW development took this practice to an unprecedented level. According to Alibek, the false identity of Biopreparat as a civilian pharmaceutical enterprise provided the Soviet BW program with a means of undertaking genetic engineering, and engaging with the Western scientific community without drawing pronounced suspicions. The sensitivity of such work, as well as the new scale with which it was being performed required maximum secrecy, entailing several clearance levels and restrictions on the amount of information available to anyone outside of the small cadre of military officials controlling the program. [32]

The Soviet Union's military doctrine for use of biological weapons during its modern-era program contained two contingencies: strategic and operational use. (See Table III for details on the categorization of specific weaponized agents.) The primary use contemplated would be strategic—that is, large-scale deployment of biological weapons against strategic targets in an enemy state during the course of a "total war." This strategic-use doctrine focused on counter-value targeting of cities and civilian populations. The Soviet Union developed this doctrine specifically vis-à-vis the United States and reportedly planned for the use of biological weapons parallel to nuclear weapons, whereby "some targets would be struck by nuclear weapons, some by biological weapons, and some by both together." [33] The most highly contagious pathogens weaponized within the Soviet arsenal, namely the causative agents of plague and smallpox, were reserved for strategic use to wreak sweeping devastation upon enemy populations. [34]

The second contingency, operational use, involved deploying biological weapons against deep military targets on the battlefield, around 100 to 150 kilometers beyond the front lines. The focus on deep targets reflected common wisdom at the time that the battlefield deployment of biological weapons could have highly unpredictable effects, including the possible infection of one's own military forces. This concern was particularly relevant when dealing with contagious agents. Many of the BW agents weaponized for operational use were developed to incapacitate rather than kill enemy soldiers, and with the exception of c. burnetii (Q fever), none of those agents is highly transmissible between humans. Meanwhile, a few agents, including b. anthracis (anthrax), were considered for both strategic and operational use. [35]

Finally, a clandestine network of institutes in the Ministry of Health reportedly ran a specialized BW research program, codenamed Flute, with a focus on developing biological and toxin agents for small-scale tactical use in KGB assassination plots and other special operations. [36]

Uncovering the Program: 1979 to 1992

American and British intelligence agencies suspected the Soviet Union of undertaking BW activities prior to the entry into force of the BTWC, but were unable to confirm their suspicions during the post-WWII years. [37] Misgivings about possible Soviet noncompliance with the BTWC intensified throughout the 1970s and 1980s, with three events solidifying their suspicions, and providing the foundation upon which the American and British governments eventually demanded dismantlement of the Soviet program.

First, in 1979 an accident at a military microbiology facility in Sverdlovsk caused a small release of dry anthrax spores into the environment and led to an outbreak of pulmonary anthrax, infecting at least 77 and killing between 66 and 68 individuals. [38] In the immediate aftermath, Soviet authorities described the outbreak as gastrointestinal and cutaneous anthrax, which they attributed to consumption of contaminated meat circulating in the city's markets and close human contact with diseased animals. However, Western analysts monitoring the reports coming out of the Soviet Union doubted the official story and suspected the outbreak to be inhalational anthrax related to illicit BW work. Compound 19 at Sverdlovsk had been one of several military installations—including sites in Aksu, Berdsk, Omutninsk, Pokrov, and Zagorsk—that American and British intelligence identified as possible Soviet BW facilities. [39]

The true source of the outbreak remained an open debate until Russian officials finally granted access to a team of Western scientists, led by Matthew Meselson, to visit the city of Sverdlovsk in 1992, evaluate the data on the event, and conduct interviews with survivors. The conclusion of their investigation, which is now generally accepted, was that the outbreak was indeed caused by the release of anthrax spores from the military facility. [40] Similarly, a 1971 outbreak of smallpox in Aralsk, Kazakhstan was reportedly the result of a Soviet field test of weaponized smallpox on Vozrozhdenie Island. [41] However, it does not seem that Western intelligence agencies at the time were aware of the outbreak, which was kept secret by Soviet health authorities.

Secondly, in 1989 Western suspicions were confirmed when Vladimir Pasechnik, a Soviet bioweaponeer who worked in Leningrad at the Institute of Ultra-Pure Biopreparations (one of the Biopreparat facilities), defected to the United Kingdom. Pasechnik's descriptions of the incredible scale and scope of the Soviet BW program alerted the United States and the United Kingdom to the fact that they had underestimated the Soviet BTWC violation. As a result of Pasechnik's revelations, U.S. President George H. W. Bush and British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher pressured Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev to resolve the Soviet BTWC compliance issue. Washington also publicly charged Moscow with violating the BTWC in its 1990 congressionally mandated Report of Soviet Noncompliance with Arms Control Treaties, as well as during its plenary statement to the third BTWC review conference in 1991. [42]

Thirdly, in 1992 even more light was shed on the incredible scale, scope, and organization of the Soviet BW complex, particularly Biopreparat, when Ken Alibek defected to the United States. As the former First Deputy Director of Biopreparat, Alibek had been directly involved in numerous projects to weaponize various diseases, and was privy to more of Biopreparat's workings than Pasechnik. A large portion of the information known about the Soviet-era program came through the protracted debriefing of Alibek. Alibek also alerted his American debriefers to evidence at the time that newly independent Russia was sustaining parts of the Soviet-era program.

Disarmament Diplomacy: 1989 to 1992

After Pasechnik's defection, political and diplomatic pressure on Moscow between 1990 and 1992 resulted in reciprocal visits to suspected BW facilities in the Soviet Union and the United States. However, the visits proved inadequate for addressing Soviet noncompliance, as the Soviet authorities denied all infringements during the inspections at their own facilities, and accused the United States of continuing offensive BW work after visits to U.S. facilities. [43] Meanwhile, internal politics and Gorbachev's inability to exercise full control over the military and Politburo leaders overseeing the Soviet BW program reportedly thwarted his endeavors to shut the program down. [44]

Russian President Boris Yeltsin acknowledged the existence of the inherited Soviet BW program and publicly committed Russia to establishing compliance with the BTWC through several activities. These activities included prohibiting offensive BW work in an April 1992 decree, initiating the dismantlement of the BW program inherited from the Soviet Union, and agreeing to allow specific on-site verification procedures of this dismantlement. [45]

The BW disarmament engagement process became formalized in 1992 as the Trilateral Agreement between Russia, the United States, and the United Kingdom. The agreement was both a diplomatic gesture of faith extended to Russia in the form of a joint statement acknowledging Russia's acquiescence, and an action-oriented arrangement intended to promote BTWC compliance through various activities, including mutual visits to non-military sites, and cooperation, exchange, and assistance endeavors. The ultimate objectives were to ensure the full dismantlement of the BW program and to establish mechanisms to monitor and maintain compliance. However, the Trilateral process faltered and ended in 1996, failing to achieve a final determination of Russia's compliance with the BTWC. Reasons for this breakdown included the difficulty of sustaining the agreement's political momentum in the face of other pressing issues, problems regarding on-site visits, the inability to negotiate visits to military sites, and the questionable openness and urgency with which the Russian government addressed concerns. [46]

Recent research has indicated that the compartmentalized secrecy of the BW program played a significant role in obstructing disarmament and diplomatic efforts during and after the Soviet Union's disintegration. [47] While Biopreparat exercised relative autonomy in its activities, the Ministry of Defense was both the sole customer and key source of personnel for Biopreparat. Moreover, powerful military leaders managed the BW complex at the top. These officials, who had an interest in the continued prosperity of the program, increasingly protected the program from internal scrutiny as the American and British governments pressured Gorbachev and then Yeltsin to shut it down. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, many of the same military officials who presided over the Soviet program acquired control over the Russian biodefense program, as well as the commission tasked with overseeing BW disarmament. [48]

Cooperative Threat Reduction and Enduring Challenges: 1997 to the Present

After the disintegration of the Soviet Union, the United States and the international community commenced a range of initiatives aimed at mitigating the WMD proliferation threats emanating from Russia and the former Soviet republics. These programs comprised of assistance in the dismantlement and conversion of BW infrastructure, engagement of former BW scientists through collaborative research and employment redirection, and biosecurity and biosafety enhancements. [49] Most notable was the U.S. Cooperative Threat Reduction (CTR) Program (also known as the Nunn-Lugar Program, based on the sponsorship of Senators Sam Nunn and Richard Lugar of the 1992 law that authorized the program), which has included a biological weapons threat reduction component since 1997.

Between FY1997 and FY2009, CTR projects aimed at BW nonproliferation in the former Soviet republics, including Russia, amounted to almost $800 million. Of that total amount, about $100 million was spent on Russia. [50] Because of difficulties concluding implementation agreements with Russia, CTR's biological weapons threat reduction programs have been implemented through the International Science and Technology Center (ISTC). The ISTC is an international organization established in 1992, originally focused on engaging former weapons scientists and directing them to non-military research. [51]  

Russia’s 2011 announced plan to withdraw from the ISTC in 2015 has raised concerns amongst some analysts regarding the continued viability of the ISTC. [52] Current biological threat reduction projects in Russia will be finished, but no new projects have been planned. [53]

Despite Russia's continuing pledges of commitment to the BTWC, as well as these international efforts and initiatives, Russia's biological research activities and infrastructure continue to present BTWC compliance and proliferation concerns.

Concerns remained regarding the completeness of Russia's dismantlement of the former Soviet program and possible ongoing BW-related activities. These concerns stemmed from opacity surrounding Russia's military microbiology facilities, which have never been opened to visits by foreigners; inadequate transparency and disclosure in documentation pertaining to dismantlement, particularly in confidence-building measures submitted under the BTWC; and the ambiguity of ongoing dual-use research, particularly in the area of biodefense.

Access Denial and Inadequate Transparency

American and British officials had failed under the Trilateral Agreement to negotiate visits to Russian military microbiology facilities of interest. Since that time, Russia has continued to deny the United States and its allies access to four specific installations controlled by the Ministry of Defense known to have been centrally involved in the Soviet-era program: the Scientific Research Institute of Microbiology in Kirov; the Center for Military Technical Problems of Anti-Bacteriological Defense in Yekaterinburg (formerly Sverdlovsk); the Center of Virology in Sergiyev Posad (formerly Zagorsk); and the Scientific Research Institute of Military Medicine in St. Petersburg (formerly Leningrad). [54]

The United States has criticized Russia for its refusal to grant access to these facilities, which has occurred despite U.S. provision of threat reduction funding and expressed Russian interest in obtaining pharmaceutical investment at some of these facilities. In a particularly controversial episode, Senator Richard Lugar, who has tried to resolve this impasse, travelled to the Kirov facility after having received signals of possible access, but was denied entry at the last minute. [55] This situation yielded concerns about possible ongoing illegal BW-related activities—concerns that were exacerbated by the fact that generals formerly in leadership positions in the Soviet BW program direct these facilities, which are a part of Russia's biodefense program. [56]

Moscow was also criticized for inadequate transparency in its documentation of the Soviet-era program. The contents of Russia's confidence-building measures, submitted annually under the BTWC, have underscored this problem. Confidence-building measures (CBMs) are voluntary exchanges of information among the BTWC state parties to bolster mutual confidence in compliance. In 1991, the state parties added several subject matters to the CBM process, including past offensive and/or defensive BW programs and ongoing biological defense R&D programs. This voluntary data exchange system presented a critical medium through which Russia could demonstrate openness regarding the Soviet-era program and fulfillment of its disarmament obligations based on Yeltsin's 1992 pledges.

However, Russia's 1992 CBM declaration contained extensive gaps, reportedly a result of subversion by Russian generals endeavoring to continue the BW program. [57] For example, the declaration omitted information on Biopreparat, the Sverdlovk anthrax incident, and BW-related genetic engineering activities. Moreover, an additional defector reportedly indicated to British authorities that offensive BW work was still occurring at certain facilities in contravention of Yeltsin's orders. [58]

Since 1992, the United States consistently found the information contained in Russia's annual CBM declarations to be inadequate, which reinforced suspicions that Russia has not fully dismantled the Soviet-era program. [59] The U.S. State Department's most recent report on foreign nations' (non)compliance with arms control treaties (known as the Compliance Report), issued in July 2013, states that "Russia's annual BTWC confidence-building measure declarations since 1992 have not satisfactorily documented whether this [offensive] program was completely destroyed or diverted to peaceful purposes in accordance with Article II of the BWC." [60]

Dual-Use Challenges

The dual-use dilemma, particularly in the area of biodefense, poses an unavoidable difficulty in determining Russia's compliance with the BTWC. The U.S. State Department's 2005 Compliance Report referenced specific dual-use research conducted in Russia that "has legitimate biodefense applicability, but also could be used to further an offensive program." The report also expressed concern that Russian dual-use facilities maintain an offensive BW mobilization capacity. [61] Several countries expressed concerns about the residual capacity of Russia's civilian biological science infrastructure; Soviet military officials had developed extensive contingency plans for converting civilian activities to biological weapons production. [62]

The 2010 Compliance Report is less accusatory on the dual-use issue, noting ongoing dual-use biological research activities, but clarifying that there are "no indications that these activities were conducted for purposes inconsistent with the BTWC." [63] The 2013 Compliance Report takes a more cautious tone, stating that “it is unclear that these [dual-use] activities were conducted for purposes inconsistent with the BWC.” [64] The difficulty of assessing the legitimacy of dual-use research activities is further complicated by the fact that the BTWC lacks a legally binding mechanism for verifying compliance.

Proliferation Challenges

Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, the U.S. government has been concerned by the possible proliferation of dangerous pathogen stocks and dual-use equipment due to the uncertain level of physical security and accountability at former BW-affiliated facilities. The economic transition and loss of central controls during and after the disintegration of the Soviet Union led to difficulties maintaining security at nuclear, chemical, and biological facilities throughout the former Soviet republics, raising the risk of theft, diversion, and trafficking of WMD-related materials. Physical security at such facilities in Russia has been a target for improvement since 1992, largely with U.S. Cooperative Threat Reduction money. In 1998, the U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) initiated projects to secure former Biopreparat facilities Vector and Obolensk, two of Russia's largest repositories of dangerous pathogens. [65]

However, a 2004 report by the U.S. Government Accountability Office observed little progress in DOD's efforts to address security concerns at Russia's former BW-affiliated facilities, and noted that a lack of Russian cooperation hindered DOD's access to facilities other than Vector and Obolensk. [66] In addition, some experts have assessed the effectiveness of physical security to protect against theft and diversion of biological materials to be limited at best, and the multitude of Russian facilities in possession of hazardous pathogen culture collections presents a considerable risk. [67] Despite appeals from the United States and its allies, Russia has neglected to consolidate its hazardous pathogen culture collections at fewer locations, which could reduce the risk of theft or diversion.

The possibility of WMD-related trafficking with links to terrorist organizations drew particular concern after the 11 September 2001 attacks, though there were no clear indications that this linkage materialized. Public data on trafficking of biological materials continued to be sparse relative to data on trafficking of nuclear and radiological materials; it is uncertain whether this disparity signifies that biological trafficking was minimal or simply reflects the difficulty of detecting the diversion and smuggling of biological materials. [68]

Russia made efforts to equip its export and border control system and law enforcement personnel to prevent biological trafficking and proliferation through institutional and legislative efforts, such as passing relevant amendments to the Russian Criminal Code and various export control laws for controlling dual-use items, disease agents, genetically altered strains and fragments of genetic material. Though not a member of the Australia Group, Russia employed export control lists developed in accordance with the recommendations of that multilateral export control regime. [69] In August 2007, Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a decree that enhanced Russia's export control list of biological materials and technologies in observance of the BTWC and UN Security Council Resolution 1540. [70]

Though sporadic, incidents of proliferation concern surfaced. In 1998 congressional testimony, Ken Alibek referenced a then recent advertisement by a Moscow-based company called Bioeffekt Ltd. offering strains of tularemia that had been genetically engineered for increased virulence. The president of the company, which also indicated interest in joint ventures and licensing arrangements in the advertisement, was a former scientist at Obolensk when it was one of Biopreparat's primary BW R&D facilities. [71] Public reports revealed occasional incidents involving attempted theft and smuggling of biological and related sensitive materials within Russia. [72]

While BW-relevant materials and technology can be transferred directly, the risk of proliferation of sensitive expertise, in the form of the movement of individuals from Russia and the former Soviet republics, represents another major concern. This problem is known as the "brain drain" risk, whereby former BW scientists emigrate to other countries to potentially contribute to offensive BW work. The sudden termination of the Soviet-era program produced thousands of unemployed and underemployed BW scientists, which, compounded by the poor economic situation in the post-Soviet states, created ideal circumstances for foreign recruitment of BW-related expertise. Fully aware of this risk in the biological, chemical, and nuclear fields, the United States and the international community initiated a number of brain-drain-prevention grant assistance programs aimed at employing former weapons scientists in peaceful projects. [73]

In 1999, the U.S. Department of Defense estimated the number of former Biopreparat scientist émigrés to be about 300, a level that did not match initial fears. In addition, it is unclear how many of those individuals possessed expertise directly relevant to weapons development and production, and how many relocated to countries of BW proliferation concern. Nonetheless, there were alarming reports about nefarious recruitment efforts and attempts by scientists to sell their BW-related knowledge and services. [74] Media sources documented vigorous recruitment efforts by Iran in the late 1990s. According to The New York Times, more than a dozen Russian BW scientists reported contact with Iran. Two reported being asked explicitly to contribute to the production of biological weapons in Tehran. At least five Russian BW scientists are suspected of having gone to Iran, while others agreed to conduct sensitive research for Tehran within Russia. [75]

Data from a 2004 study revealed that roughly twenty percent of 602 surveyed Russian physicists, biologists, and chemists considered working in rogue nations such as North Korea, Iran, Syria, and pre-invasion Iraq. [76] Other reports suggested Aum Shinrikyo, the Japanese cult responsible for the 1995 sarin gas attacks on the Tokyo subway, and Al-Qaeda have also attempted to recruit BW expertise from the former Soviet republics. [77]

The brain drain risk is multifaceted. First, as revealed by Iran's alleged recruitment efforts, foreign governments may enlist former BW scientists within Russia's borders, where they can operate under the cover of legitimate business. Second, former BW scientists may use modern communication technologies, notably the internet, to covertly provide sensitive information to foreign BW programs. Third, former BW scientists may sell sensitive "cookbook" documents detailing techniques for BW development and production. [78] While the magnitude of the brain drain problem in reality may be unknown, there are concrete reasons for ongoing concern, and some experts have questioned the effectiveness of current brain-drain prevention practices, such as the criteria used for selecting which scientists to engage. [79]

Environmental and Public Health Legacies

The gradual degradation of former BW-related facilities and contamination caused by past BW testing has precipitated environmental risks of public health concern. U.S. officials observed that infrastructural deterioration and lack of use at several former BW institutes created dangerous biosafety conditions that could lead to accidental release of pathogens into the environment. [80] A 2000 report by the U.S. Government Accountability Office pointed to the 1979 Sverdlovsk incident as an example of human error that could compound the current risk of accidental release. [81]

Meanwhile, some experts fear that environmental contamination caused by past BW testing on Vozrozhdeniye Island could pose a threat to nearby populations. Vozrozhdeniye Island is now an area shared by Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan. No longer actually an island due to the shrinking of the Aral Sea, Vozrozhdeniye Island was the Soviet Union's primary BW testing ground during its modern-era program. Operated by the Ministry of Defense, Vozrozhdeniye Island hosted open-air tests with primates and other animals using a variety of BW agents, including botulinum toxin and the causative agents of anthrax, tularemia, brucellosis, plague, typhus, Q fever, smallpox, and Venezuelan equine encephalitis. [82] While the island was chosen as a test site for its particular geographical conditions and climate (ideal for limiting the spread of pathogens), repeated epidemics among surrounding animal populations and individual human infections occurred. [83]

Since the disintegration of the Soviet Union, decontamination activities have been performed on the island. Contamination by anthrax spores, which can remain dormant and viable for decades even in harsh conditions, has been of particular concern. The Soviet military not only tested anthrax on the island but also secretly buried large and inadequately sterilized caches of anthrax on the island to avoid detection by possible foreign inspections in 1988. [84] With U.S. assistance, those caches were finally unearthed for more thorough decontamination during the summer of 2002. In addition, BW-related equipment and buildings were destroyed, pathogen culture collections secured, and perimeter controls were erected around the remaining infrastructure. [85]

In spite of these threat reduction efforts, concerns persist among some experts, and health authorities are monitoring the potential environmental threat posed by any lasting contamination. The steady desiccation of the Aral Sea first connected the island with the mainland in 2001, which has led some experts to fear that this might enable rodents, birds, or people scavenging the island for scrap metal to come into contact with pathogens from Soviet-era tests or disease reservoirs, then carry disease from the island to surrounding populations. [86] Currently, Kazakh and Uzbek scientists are conducting disease surveillance campaigns on the island to monitor for the presence and outbreak of infectious diseases, such as plague. To date, no observed incidents have demonstrated an ongoing environmental contamination threat.

Recent Developments and Current Status

International uncertainties concerning Russian compliance with the BTWC are likely to persist until the Russian government provides additional evidence that its military biological facilities are not engaged in any activities prohibited by the treaty. [87] Greater transparency, including through more comprehensive CBM declarations within the BTWC regime, could give other countries confidence in Russian treaty compliance.

Proliferation risks emanating from Russia and the former Soviet republics were greatly reduced through physical security enhancements at biological facilities, export and border control improvements, and brain drain prevention programs. Nonetheless, enduring risks cannot be ruled out due to the incredible magnitude of the former Soviet BW program and the inability to account for all of the scientists involved in that program. The U.S. CTR program was a core component of nonproliferation efforts in Russia and the former Soviet republics for almost two decades, but on 10 October 2012, the Russian government announced their intention not to renew CTR programs in Russia. In a statement on the Russian Foreign Ministry website, they said "American partners know that their proposal is not consistent with our ideas about what forms and on what basis further cooperation should be built." Additionally, they cited Russia was no longer financially unable to support domestic nonproliferation efforts On 14 June 2013, the United States and Russia signed a new bilateral framework on threat reduction that builds on elements of the CTR program. [88] The FY2014 CTR Budget Estimate states that although work on cooperative biological engagement will continue, “activities are limited in Russia and Uzbekistan due to both countries’ reluctance to cooperate with the DoD Cooperative Biological Engagement Program.” [89] The Budget mentions the desire to engage Russia on “cooperative biological research projects,” but details of these projects are not provided. [90]

Sources:

[1] Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), "Geneva Protocol Reservations," Project on Chemical and Biological Warfare, http://archives.sipri.org.
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[5] Anthony Rimmington, "The Soviet Union's Offensive Program: The Implications for Contemporary Arms Control," in Biological Warfare and Disarmament: New Problems/New Perspectives, ed. Susan Wright (Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc., 2002), p. 106; Ken Alibek with Stephen Handelman, Biohazard: The Chilling True Story of the Largest Covert Biological Weapons Program in the World—Told from Inside by the Man Who Ran It (New York: Random House, Inc., 1999), p. 35.
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[33] Ken Alibek and Jonathan B. Tucker, "Biological Weapons in the Former Soviet Union: An Interview with Dr. Kenneth Alibek," The Nonproliferation Review, Spring-Summer 1999, http://cns.miis.edu.
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[35] Ken Alibek and Jonathan B. Tucker, "Biological Weapons in the Former Soviet Union: An Interview with Dr. Kenneth Alibek," The Nonproliferation Review, Spring-Summer 1999, http://cns.miis.edu; "Interview Dr. Ken Alibek" Journal of Homeland Security, 28 September 2000, www.homelandsecurity.org.
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[37] Wilton E. Lexow and Julian Hoptman, "The Enigma of Soviet BW," Central Intelligence Agency, Studies in Intelligence 9, Spring 1965, www.fas.org.
[38] Matthew Meselson, et al., "The Sverdlovsk Anthrax Outbreak of 1979," Science 266, 1994, www.anthrax.osd.mil, pp. 1202-1208.
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[40] Matthew Meselson, et al., "The Sverdlovsk Anthrax Outbreak of 1979," Science 266, 1994, www.anthrax.osd.mil; Jeanne Guillemin, Anthrax: The Investigation of a Deadly Outbreak (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1999).
[41] Jonathan Tucker and Raymond Zilinskas, eds., The 1971 Smallpox Epidemic in Aralsk, Kazakhstan, and the Soviet Biological Warfare Program, Occasional Paper No. 9, (Center for Nonproliferation Studies, Monterey, CA, 2002), http://cns.miis.edu; Dr. Pyotr Burgasov, Interview, 60 Minutes, CBS News, 11 May 2003.
[42] Michael Moodie, "The Soviet Union, Russia, and the Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention," The Nonproliferation Review 8 (1), Spring 2001, p. 61.
[43] David C. Kelly, "The Trilateral Agreement: Lessons for Biological Weapons Verification," Verification Yearbook, 2002, pp. 94-96, www.vertic.org; Ken Alibek with Stephen Handelman, Biohazard: The Chilling True Story of the Largest Covert Biological Weapons Program in the World—Told from Inside by the Man Who Ran It (New York: Random House, Inc., 1999), pp. 193-206.
[44] David E. Hoffman, The Dead Hand: The Untold Story of the Cold War Arms Race and Its Dangerous Legacy (New York: Anchor Books, 2010), pp. 301-303, 339-357; Ken Alibek with Stephen Handelman, Biohazard: The Chilling True Story of the Largest Covert Biological Weapons Program in the World—Told from Inside by the Man Who Ran It (New York: Random House, Inc., 1999), pp. 188-190.
[45] "Russia Shuns Biological Weapons," New Scientist, 134 (1882), 1992, www.newscientist.com; U.S. Department of State, "Adherence to and Compliance with Arms Control, Nonproliferation and Disarmament Agreements and Commitments" (Noncompliance Report), July 2010, p. 23.
[46] David C. Kelly, "The Trilateral Agreement: Lessons for Biological Weapons Verification." Verification Yearbook, 2002, www.vertic.org, pp. 96-108; National Research Council, Office for Central Europe and Eurasia Development, Security, and Cooperation, The Biological Threat Reduction Program of the Department of Defense: From Foreign Assistance to Sustainable Partnerships (Washington, DC: National Academies Press, 2007), http://books.nap.edu, p. 16.
[47] David E. Hoffman, The Dead Hand: The Untold Story of the Cold War Arms Race and Its Dangerous Legacy (New York: Anchor Books, 2010).
[48] David E. Hoffman, The Dead Hand: The Untold Story of the Cold War Arms Race and Its Dangerous Legacy (New York: Anchor Books, 2010), pp. 424-438; Gregory D. Koblentz, Living Weapons: Biological Warfare and International Security (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2009), pp. 112-127.
[49] Michelle Stem Cook and Amy F. Woolf, "Preventing Proliferation of Biological Weapons: U.S. Assistance to the Former Soviet States," (Washington, DC: Congressional Research Service, April 2002), pp. 11-12, www.fas.org.
[50] National Research Council, Office for Central Europe and Eurasia Development, Security, and Cooperation, Countering Biological Threats: Challenges for the Department of Defense's Nonproliferation Program Beyond the Former Soviet Union (Washington, DC: National Academies Press, 2009), p. 26, www.nap.edu.
[51] U.S. Department of Defense, "Cooperative Threat Reduction Annual Report to Congress Fiscal Year 2009," Washington, DC, 31 December 2007, p. 3, www.fas.org; National Research Council, Office of International Affairs, An Assessment of the International Science and Technology Center: Redirecting Expertise in Weapons of Mass Destruction in the Former Soviet Union (Washington, DC: National Academies Press, 1996), www.nap.edu.
[52] Martin Matishak, “Future in Doubt for International WMD Nonproliferation Center,” Nuclear Threat Initiative, 18 April 2011, www.nti.org.
[53] Mary Beth D. Nikitin and Amy F. Woolf, “The Evolution of Cooperative Threat Reduction: Issues for Congress,” Congressional Research Service, 8 July 2013, p. 36.
[54] Kenneth N. Luongo, et al., "Building a Forward Line of Defense: Securing Former Soviet Biological Weapons," Arms Control Today, July/August 2004, www.armscontrol.org; Anthony Rimmington, "The Soviet Union's Offensive Program: The Implications for Contemporary Arms Control," in Biological Warfare and Disarmament: New Problems/New Perspectives, ed. Susan Wright (Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc., 2002), p. 117.
[55] Joby Warrick, "Russia Denies U.S. Access on Bioweapons," The Washington Post, 8 September 2002, p. A25.
[56] U.S. General Accounting Office (GAO), "Biological Weapons: Efforts to Reduce Former Soviet Threat Offers Benefits, Poses New Risks," GAO/NSIAD-00-138, April 2000, p. 16, www.au.af.mil.
[57] David E. Hoffman, The Dead Hand: The Untold Story of the Cold War Arms Race and Its Dangerous Legacy (New York: Anchor Books, 2010), pp. 427-428.
[58] Milton Leitenberg and Raymond A. Zilinskas, "The Soviet Biological Weapons Program: A History," Cambridge, Harvard University Press, 2012, pp. 580.
[59] Michael Moodie, "The Soviet Union, Russia, and the Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention," The Nonproliferation Review 8 (1), Spring 2001, pp. 64-65.
[60] U.S. Department of State, "Adherence to and Compliance with Arms Control, Nonproliferation and Disarmament Agreements and Commitments" (Noncompliance Report), July 2013, p. 15.
[61] U.S. Department of State, "Adherence to and Compliance with Arms Control, Nonproliferation and Disarmament Agreements and Commitments" (Noncompliance Report), August 2005, pp. 28-29.
[62] John Hart, "The Soviet Biological Weapons Program," in Deadly Cultures: Biological Weapons Since 1945, eds. Mark Wheelis, Lajos Rózsa, and Malcolm Dando (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2006), p. 155.
[63] U.S. Department of State, "Adherence to and Compliance with Arms Control, Nonproliferation and Disarmament Agreements and Commitments" (Noncompliance Report), July 2010, p. 23.
[64] U.S. Department of State, "Adherence to and Compliance with Arms Control, Nonproliferation and Disarmament Agreements and Commitments" (Noncompliance Report), July 2013, p. 14.
[65] U.S. Government Accountability Office, Biological Weapons: Effort to Reduce Former Soviet Threat Offers Benefits, Poses New Risks, GAO/NSIAD-00-138 (Washington, DC: U.S. General Accountability Office, April 2000).
[66] U.S. Government Accountability Office, Weapons of Mass Destruction: Defense Threat Reduction Agency Addresses Broad Range of Threats, but Performance Reporting Can Be Improved, GAO-04-330 (Washington, DC: U.S. General Accountability Office, February 2004), p. 12.
[67] Jonathan B. Tucker and Kathleen M. Vogel, "Preventing the Proliferation of Chemical and Biological Weapons Materials and Know-How," The Nonproliferation Review 7 (1), Spring 2000, pp. 90-91.
[68] Sonia Ben Ouagrham-Gormley, "An Unrealized Nexus? WMD-Related Trafficking, Terrorism, and Organized Crime in the Former Soviet Union," Arms Control Today, July/August, 2007, www.armscontrol.org.
[69] Sonia Ben Ouagrham-Gormley, "An Unrealized Nexus? WMD-Related Trafficking, Terrorism, and Organized Crime in the Former Soviet Union," Arms Control Today, July/August, 2007, www.armscontrol.org; "Russia: Export Control Legislation," Nuclear Threat Initiative, www.nti.org.
[70] "Putin Announces New Rules for Biological Exports," Global Security Newswire, 22 August 2007, http://gsn.nti.org; Office of the President of Russia, "President Vladimir Putin signed a decree that approved the list of microorganisms, toxins, equipment and technologies subject to export control," 22 August 2007, http://archive.kremlin.ru.
[71] Ken Alibek, "Terrorism and Intelligence Operations: Potential Impact on the U.S. Economy," Testimony before the Joint Economic Committee, United States Congress, 20 May 1998, www.house.gov; Ken Alibek with Stephen Handelman, Biohazard: The Chilling True Story of the Largest Covert Biological Weapons Program in the World—Told from Inside by the Man Who Ran It (New York: Random House, Inc., 1999), pp. 272-273.
[72] "Russian Suspected of Smuggling Biological Material," Global Security Newswire, 14 September 2007, http://gsn.nti.org; "Thefts Thwarted at Russian Disease Laboratory," Global Security Newswire, 11 March 2010, http://gsn.nti.org.
[73] Amy E. Smithson, Toxic Archipelago: Preventing Proliferation from the Former Soviet Chemical and Biological Weapons Complexes, Report No. 32, (Washington, DC: The Henry L. Stimson Center, 1999), http://beta.stimson.org.
[74] Jonathan B. Tucker, "Bioweapons in Russia: Stemming the Flow," Issues in Science and Technology 15 (3), Spring 1999, www.issues.org.
[75] Judith Miller and William J. Broad, "Iranians, Bioweapons in Mind, Lure Needy Ex-Soviet Scientists," The New York Times, 8 December 1998.
[76] Deborah Yarsike Ball and Theodore P. Gerber, "Will Russian Scientists Go Rogue? A Survey on the Threat and the Impact of Western Assistance," PONARS Policy Memo 357 (Washington, DC: Elliot School of International Affairs, 2004), www.gwu.edu.
[77] Amy E. Smithson, Ataxia: The Chemical and Biological Terrorism Threat and The U.S. Response, Stimson Report No. 35, 9 October 2000, p. 74, www.stimson.org; Judith Miller, Stephen Engleberg, and William Broad, Germs: Biological Weapons and America's Secret War (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2000), pp. 205-207, 209-212, 228-229, and 280.
[78] Jonathan B. Tucker, "Bioweapons in Russia: Stemming the Flow," Issues in Science and Technology 15 (3), Spring 1999, www.issues.org.
[79] Sonia Ben Ouagrham-Gormley and Kathleen M. Vogel, "The Social Context Shaping Bioweapons (Non)proliferation," Biosecurity and Bioterrorism 8(1), 2010, pp. 1-4; Igor V. Domaradskij and Wendy Orent, "Achievements of the Soviet biological weapons programme and implications for the future," Revue Scientifique et Technique de l'OIE 25(1), 2006, p. 159, www.oie.int.
[80] U.S. Government Accountability Office, Biological Weapons: Effort to Reduce Former Soviet Threat Offers Benefits, Poses New Risks, GAO/NSIAD-00-138 (Washington, DC: U.S. General Accountability Office, April 2000), pp. 15-16; Michelle Stem Cook and Amy F. Woolf, "Preventing Proliferation of Biological Weapons: U.S. Assistance to the Former Soviet States," (Washington, DC: Congressional Research Service, April 2002), p. 6, www.fas.org.
[81] U.S. Government Accountability Office, Biological Weapons: Effort to Reduce Former Soviet Threat Offers Benefits, Poses New Risks, GAO/NSIAD-00-138 (Washington, DC: U.S. General Accountability Office, April 2000), p. 16.
[82] Gulbarshyn Bozheyeva, Yerlan Kunakbayev, and Dastan Yeleukenov, Former Soviet Biological Weapons Facilities in Kazakhstan: Past, Present, and Future, Occasional Paper No. 1 (Monterey, CA: Center for Nonproliferation Studies, June 1999), p. 6, http://cns.miis.edu.
[83] Gulbarshyn Bozheyeva, Yerlan Kunakbayev, and Dastan Yeleukenov, Former Soviet Biological Weapons Facilities in Kazakhstan: Past, Present, and Future, Occasional Paper No. 1 (Monterey, CA: Center for Nonproliferation Studies, June 1999), p. 6, http://cns.miis.edu.
[85] David E. Hoffman, The Dead Hand: The Untold Story of the Cold War Arms Race and Its Dangerous Legacy (New York: Anchor Books, 2010), pp. 308, 468-469.
[86] Roger Roffey, Wilhelm Unge, Jenny Clevstrom and Kristina Westerdahl, Support to Threat Reduction of the Russian Biological Weapons Legacy - Conversion, Biodefense and the Role of Biopreparat, Swedish Defense Research Agency, Umeå, April 2003, www.foi.se, pp. 65-66.
[87] Togzhan Kassenova, "Central Asia: Regional Security and WMD Proliferation Threats," Disarmament Forum 2007, no. 4, p. 17, www.unidir.org; Michelle Stem Cook and Amy F. Woolf, "Preventing Proliferation of Biological Weapons: U.S. Assistance to the Former Soviet States," (Washington, DC: Congressional Research Service, April 2002), p. 5, www.fas.org.
[88] The White House, “FACT SHEET: United States and the Russian Federation Sign New Bilateral Framework on Threat Reduction,” 17 June 2013, www.whitehouse.gov.
[89] U.S. Defense Threat Reducation Agency, “Cooperative Threat Reducation Program Fiscal Year (FY) 2014 Budget Estimates,” April 2013, p. 90.
[90] U.S. Defense Threat Reducation Agency, “Cooperative Threat Reducation Program Fiscal Year (FY) 2014 Budget Estimates,” April 2013, p. 107.

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This material is produced independently for NTI by the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies at the Monterey Institute of International Studies and does not necessarily reflect the opinions of and has not been independently verified by NTI or its directors, officers, employees, or agents.

Get the Facts on Russia

  • 8,500 to 10,000 nuclear warheads, including approximately 3,000 awaiting dismantlement
  • Pursued a covert biological weapons program during the Soviet era while a state party to the BTWC
  • Scheduled to complete destruction of its chemical weapons stockpile by December 2015