Cold War Biowarfare Stocks Probably Remain in Russia, Book Says

A scientist picks up a laboratory rat for use in a 2001 experiment at the former biological weapons development institute in Obolensk, Russia. A newly published book suggests Russia has retained stockpiles of biological-weapon agents developed by Soviet experts during the Cold War (AP Photo/Misha Japaridze).
A scientist picks up a laboratory rat for use in a 2001 experiment at the former biological weapons development institute in Obolensk, Russia. A newly published book suggests Russia has retained stockpiles of biological-weapon agents developed by Soviet experts during the Cold War (AP Photo/Misha Japaridze).

Russian armed forces science facilities probably retain frozen stocks of biological-weapon agents refined by Soviet specialists during the Cold War, according to a recently released book quoted on Wednesday by the Washington Post (see GSN, March 29).

The United States received verification of the Soviet Union's biological-armament manufacturing operations from then-Russian President Boris Yeltsin after the communist bloc collapsed in 1991. Additional descriptions of the efforts later came from state deserters, U.S. government personnel, reporters and one-time Soviet research insiders. Moscow, though, has formally rejected accounts of Soviet-era biological weapons activities, which are prohibited under a 4-decade-old international pact to which the former superpower was a signatory.

Information on disposal of the biological warfare assets remains under wraps after 20 years, and requests have failed to open a path for independent scrutiny of three Russian Defense Ministry life sciences sites that previously supported Soviet Union's biological weapons efforts.

It is "reasonable to conclude" that the facilities still contain pathogens generated by the Cold War-era effort in a manner similar to the storage of germs at highly secured U.S. armed forces and nonmilitary sites, according to Milton Leitenberg and Raymond Zilinskas, who wrote "The Soviet Biological Weapons Program."

The Russian opacity could be cause for worry regarding protection of the materials and the potential for ongoing scientific operations, the experts said.

"One must assume that whatever genetically engineered bacterial and viral forms were created ... remain stored in the culture collections of the Russian Federation Ministry of Defense,” stated the specialists, who based their findings partly on conversations with prominent Soviet-era biological warfare specialists (Joby Warrick, Washington Post, Aug. 8).

August 9, 2012
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Russian armed forces science facilities probably retain frozen stocks of biological-weapon agents refined by Soviet specialists during the Cold War, according to a recently released book quoted on Wednesday by the Washington Post .

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