The man carrying the hidden radioactive material passed among airline passengers at Sheremetyevo Airport here on an afternoon this year. His briefcase, holding the contraband, was indistinguishable from anyone else's carry-on bag.
Then, as he approached the check-in counter, lights flashed and an alarm sounded. A mounted video camera captured the man's image. Uniformed guards seized the briefcase and took it to a lead-lined booth where it could be inspected without harming other passengers.
So passed a drill of a quietly expanding nuclear security initiative in the former Soviet Union. The man, a Russian customs employee, had tripped a silent sentinel - an electronic radiation detector that had been installed by the Russian government, underwritten in part by the United States.
Since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, the United States and Russia have been accelerating the installation of automated radiation detectors at Russian shipping ports, border crossings and airports, hoping to deter or detect the movement of radioactive material through Russia, a land where law and order is a deeply inconsistent affair.
Officials in the two nations hope the program, called Second Line of Defense, will complement security measures at former Soviet nuclear storage sites by providing a means to detect material that is already loose, or that in the future makes it to the wrong side of the fences.
Its principal tools are banks of sensors now visible at airports and borders in Russia, typically installed beside luggage inspection points. The program augments efforts at cooperative detection programs by the United States and former Soviet states. The United States has spent about $35 million on the program in Russia since 1998.
Some details of the program are not publicly known, including the locations of all the sensors and the schedule for installing more, because the program managers do not want to give smugglers a map. (Russian and American officials agreed to discuss the Sheremetyevo sensors because their existence is thought to be widely known.)
But information already made public provides insight into the ambitions and limits of efforts to safeguard the public from nuclear and radioactive stockpiles left from the cold war.
Nonproliferation specialists in and out of government say that although much of the former Soviet Union's nuclear and radioactive material has been consolidated into upgraded storage sites since the union dissolved in 1991, worrisome security gaps remain. Moreover, Russia has quarreled with the United States over access to its most secret facilities.
Specialists also say that no matter the level of security and cooperation at storage sites now, uncertainty remains about the historical accuracy of Soviet nuclear inventories. That means that how much material disappeared before security was improved is anyone's guess.
The dangers have been clear since at least 1994, when a smuggler with plutonium for sale passed through this airport and flew on a passenger jet with the nuclear material to Munich, where he was arrested.
Paul M. Longsworth, deputy director of the National Nuclear Safety Administration, a semiautonomous agency in the Department of Energy, said that given those security concerns, the sensors were part of "defense in depth," a strategy of trying to create layers of security between nuclear material on foreign soil and the United States.
"It's better to have your defense somewhere other than on the one-yard line," Mr. Longsworth said in a telephone interview from Washington.
To this end, the United States has helped underwrite the installation of the sensors at about 60 Russian ports, airports or border crossings; 15 more sites are planned by Sept. 30. The program has expanded beyond Russia. Sensors were installed in Greece before the Olympics last year, and a project has begun in Lithuania. Negotiations have begun to place sensors in Kazakhstan, said Tracy Mustin, the program's director in Washington. Ukraine recently agreed to join the program.
Nikolai E. Kravchenko, chief of Russia's Service for Customs Control of Nuclear Materials and Radioactive Sources, said the sensors installed frequently picked up radioactive material, and recorded 14,000 "hits" last year.
Of those, about 200 involved cases of possible smuggling, including people who apparently had material but did not realize it. In some cases people carried money that had become irradiated, military equipment collectors carried aviation dials and other lightly radioactive souvenirs, and women wore radioactive jewelry.
Mr. Kravchenko said culpability or ignorance had been harder to determine in many cases, as when truck drivers were caught at borders with radioactive material among scrap. Almost invariably, he said, drivers claim not to know dangerous material is in their loads.
Since 1995, no weapons-grade material has been discovered, Mr. Kravchenko said. He said, however, that nuclear fuel pellets and raw uranium had been intercepted. There have also been hints of organized smuggling.
Vladislav Bozhko, who supervises the program at Sheremetyevo, said that in 2002 all the sensors at one terminal were set off in sequence, as if someone had made a dry run. "We think they were just testing how well it worked, looking for a gap in the defensive line," he said. No one was caught.
The officials say the sensors are extremely sensitive, picking up faint traces of radioactivity. (The claim withstood an unintentional check. This correspondent's wife, recently returning to Russia after undergoing medical scans in the United States, set off two sensors when entering the country. Remnants of isotopes in her bloodstream set off the alarm.)
Still, nonproliferation specialists warn that for all of their abilities, the sensors and the Second Line of Defense program have limits.
"A layered defense is really smart and important," said Laura Holgate, a regional vice president of the Nuclear Threat Initiative, a Washington-based nongovernmental organization that works on nonproliferation. "But the best and most efficient use of resources is to make sure the material stays put, and that it is ultimately destroyed."
"No matter how effective any other layers are," Ms. Holgate said, "none of these has any pretense of being as hermetically sealed as a site barrier."
Mr. Kravchenko said Russia hoped in time to install the sensors at every Russian border point, although it did not yet have a financing plan. For now, busy border crossings, or those near stored nuclear material, have received the sensors rather than those in remote or lightly trafficked areas.
Similar plans are being developed in the United States, where the Customs and Border Protection has been installing more stationary sensors - known as radiation portal monitors - at shipping ports and land border crossings, and intends to expand their use to cover almost all entry points to the country, said Barry Morrissey, a spokesman for the agency.
The National Nuclear Security Administration said it would continue to help Russia, but would conduct cost-benefit analyses for proposed additions to decide whether the United States should help pay. "The goal of 100 percent is something we do support, if they can get there," Mr. Longsworth said. "But it does not mean that the U.S. taxpayers will pay for it."
2. Russia and U.S. Seek Reducing Threat of Nuclear Terrorism
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Russia and the United States seek reduction of the threat of nuclear terrorism. This goal is pursued in the agreement on further cooperation concluded between Russia's Federal Customs Service and the National Nuclear Security Administration under the American Energy Department, says the FCS press service in the communique, on Friday.
The document was signed within the framework of the program Second Line of Protection. This program has been on since 1998 and seeks minimizing risk from the illegal movement of nuclear and other radioactive materials across state borders. Among the guidelines of interaction is equipping border checkpoints with radiation control equipment and their unification into single reaction systems, as well as the training of specialists for them at branches of the Russian Customs Academy.
The document, signed on Thursday, is the basis for new long-term cooperation, maintenance of all the radiation control equipment at the checkpoints, the FTS press release says.
"The joint efforts taken within the framework of cooperation between the Russian FTS and the United States Energy Department have great importance for reducing the threat of nuclear and radiological terrorism", said the FTS deputy chief Tatyana Golendeeva.
A shipment of nuclear power plant fuel made from weapons-grade plutonium has been delivered to a South Carolina power station that will be the first in the United States to use it, officials said Friday.
The MOX fuel, a mixture of plutonium oxide and uranium oxide, was converted at a nuclear plant in France and shipped back to the Charleston Naval Weapons Station earlier this month.
It was then transported to the Catawba Nuclear Station on Lake Wylie, about 20 miles south of Charlotte, N.C., where it will be tested, officials said. The plan is part of a 2000 U.S.-Russia disarmament accord under which both countries promised to destroy 34 tons of military plutonium each.
"We're going to use this and actually look at how it performs," said Duke Energy spokeswoman Rita Sipe.
Activists have argued that the MOX shipment posed environmental and terrorist threats. The environmental organization Greenpeace also opposes the use of MOX to run reactors, saying it becomes hotter and more radioactive than the enriched uranium used to fuel most reactors.
However, Sipe said the nuclear station is meeting all Nuclear Regulatory Commission security requirements.
"It's an opportunity for us to help out not only our country, but the world," she said. "We feel good that we are making a contribution to ridding the world of this surplus plutonium for weapons."
After this first test run, U.S. officials plan to build a MOX conversion facility with French help at the Savannah River nuclear site, near Aiken, to dispose of the rest of the plutonium the United States has agreed to destroy. Another conversion facility would be built in Russia.
No U.S. plant is capable of making MOX, which is produced only in France and Britain.
1. UK, Norway To Finance Scrapping 2 Nuclear Submarines in Russia's Murmansk Region
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The contract on scrapping the Shchuka Project 671RTM multi-role nuclear-powered submarine (Viktor-III-type sub under NATO classification) at the Nerpa shipyard, situated in Snezhnogorsk outside Murmansk, has been signed in London.
The Nerpa shipyard authorities told Interfax-Military News Agency that the UK would allocate 4.3 million Euros to fulfil the contract, singed by Nerpa and the British Trade and Industry Ministry, responsible for international nuclear policy.
The work will be financed within the framework of the G-8-sponsored Global Partnership program, signed at the G-8 summit in Canada in 2002. Back then G-8 leaders undertook a commitment to earmark up to $20 billion with a decade starting in 2003 to finance non-proliferation, disarmament, counter-terrorism, and nuclear security programs in Russia.
The UK is to allocate up to $750 million under the program.
In addition to that on May 11-12 a similar contract is expected to be signed with Norway in Murmansk. The estimated sum will amount to 4.7 million Euros.
A total of 26 second-generation Project 671RTM submarines have been built, with 16 of them in service with the Northern Fleet. At the present time a total of eight nuclear-powered submarines have left the inventory.
1. Biological Weapons Are More Dangerous Than Nuclear ï¿½ Expert
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Biological weapons are more dangerous than nuclear and chemical weapons, biological security expert Natalia Kalinina said.
"When national security threats are ranked certain countries are ready to place biological weapons at the top, and chemical and nuclear weapons below," she told Interfax.
She said biological security issues are becoming especially pressing with the appearance of new genetically modified forms of biological weapons that international agreements do not cover.
"The principle of ranking seems quite logical. The fewer the verification methods and forms of protection, the higher the potential danger of unpunished use of some one type of weapon of mass destruction or other," she said.
In her opinion, the choice of biological agents for covert biological warfare or public use by terrorists is so great, that "the underestimation of the danger may have the gravest unpredictable economic, social and psychological consequences."
"Global biological terrorism can be used with the purpose of genocide, depriving whole countries and areas of sources of food and water," Kalinina said.
She said biological terrorism can be used for intimidation, provoking domestic unrest, economic and social crises, destabilizing government and for physically removing unwanted politicians and statesmen.
In her opinion, the time has come to harmonize and standardize Russian and Western legislative and regulatory systems on biological security.
"Instead of criticism and suspicions it would be more fruitful and useful for the international community to switch from debating the observation of the convention prohibiting biological weapons to strengthening cooperation in increasing the effectiveness of the modes of guaranteeing biological security and export control," Kalinina said.
"It is troubling that these matters have not yet become a natural and essential component of the Russian national security concept," she said.
1. Moldova Urges Russia to Check Reports of Missing Nuclear-Related Devices
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The Moldovan Foreign and European Integration Ministry today sent the Russian Foreign Ministry a note asking it "to organize an urgent international inspection of arms depots in Cobasna (in the breakaway Dniester region), as well as to resume and quickly complete the pull-out of ammunition from Moldova".
The note was issued after Political Journal reported that two devices for imitating nuclear explosions, as well as nuclear equipment, so-called "nuclear suitcases" (used to launch nuclear missiles), went missing from the arms depots of the former (Russian) 14th Army, deployed on the territory of Moldova.
"In the light of the above said, the Moldovan Foreign and European Integration Ministry, being deeply concerned over national and regional security, demands that the Russian Foreign Ministry take concrete measures to promptly investigate the mentioned reports. The Moldovan authorities will be grateful if Russia provides them with detailed information about issues published in the news organization (Political Journal)," the Moldovan note said.
"The Moldovan authorities are going to point this problem out to the international community, in particular, to security organizations," the note said. The Russian Foreign Ministry has not yet commented on Chisinau's appeal.
Political Journal published excerpts from interviews with the former head of the Tiraspol garrison, Mikhail Bergman, who said that missile launchers and two tactical missiles with nuclear explosion imitators as warheads went missing from Cobasna warehouses together with two small tactical nuclear devices "nuclear suitcases". They were owned by special-purpose troops of the Soviet Army's intelligence office.
Russia suspended the withdrawal of ammunition from Moldova in spring 2004 under the pretext that the administration of the unrecognized Dniester Moldovan republic was hindering it.
As the review conference of the Nonproliferation Treaty convenes in New York this month, we can only be appalled at the indifference of the United States and the other nuclear powers. This indifference is remarkable, considering the addition of Iran and North Korea as states that either possess or seek nuclear weapons programs.
In the run-up to the conference, a group of "Middle States" had a simple goal: "To exert leverage on the nuclear powers to take some minimum steps to save the nonproliferation treaty in 2005." Last year this coalition of nuclear-capable states - including Brazil, Egypt, Ireland, Mexico, New Zealand, South Africa, Sweden and eight NATO members - voted for a new agenda resolution calling for implementing NPT commitments already made. Tragically, the United States, Britain and France voted against this resolution.
Preparatory talks failed even to achieve an agenda because of the deep divisions between nuclear powers that refuse to meet their own disarmament commitments and the non-nuclear movement, whose demands include honoring these pledges and considering the Israeli arsenal.
Until recently, all American presidents since Dwight Eisenhower had striven to restrict and reduce nuclear arsenals - some more than others. As far as I know, there are no present efforts by any of the nuclear powers to accomplish these crucial goals.
The United States is the major culprit in this erosion of the NPT. While claiming to be protecting the world from proliferation threats in Iraq, Libya, Iran and North Korea, American leaders not only have abandoned existing treaty restraints but also have asserted plans to test and develop new weapons, including antiballistic missiles, the earth-penetrating "bunker buster" and perhaps some new "small" bombs. They also have abandoned past pledges and now threaten first use of nuclear weapons against non-nuclear states.
Some corrective actions are obvious:
The United States needs to address remaining nuclear issues with Russia, demanding the same standards of transparency and verification of past arms control agreements and dismantling and disposal of decommissioned weapons. With massive arsenals still on hair-trigger alert status, a global holocaust is just as possible now, through mistakes or misjudgments, as it was during the depths of the cold war. We could address perhaps the world's greatest proliferation threat by fully securing Russia's stockpiles.
While all nuclear weapons states should agree to no first use, the United States, as the sole superpower, should take the lead on this issue.
NATO needs to de-emphasize the role of its nuclear weapons and consider an end to their deployment in Western Europe. Despite its eastward expansion, NATO is keeping the same stockpiles and policies as when the Iron Curtain divided the continent.
The comprehensive test ban treaty should be honored, but the United States is moving in the opposite direction. The administration's 2005 budget refers for the first time to a list of test scenarios, and other nations are waiting to take the same action.
The United States should support a fissile-materials treaty to prevent the creation and transport of highly enriched uranium and plutonium.
The United States should curtail development of the infeasible missile defense shield, which is wasting huge resources, while breaking our commitment to the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty without a working substitute.
Act on nuclear proliferation in the Middle East, an increasing source of instability. Iran has repeatedly hidden its intentions to enrich uranium while claiming that its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes only. This explanation has been given before, by India, Pakistan and North Korea, and has led to weapons programs in all three states. Iran must be called to account and held to its promises under the Nonproliferation Treaty. At the same time, we fail to acknowledge how Israel's nuclear status entices Iran, Syria, Egypt and other states to join the community of nuclear-weapon states.
If the United States and other nuclear powers are serious about stopping the erosion of the Nonproliferation Treaty, they must act now on these issues. Any other course will mean a world in which the nuclear threat increases, not diminishes.
2. US Insists on Access to Russian Nuclear Sites Where it Funds Safety
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The United States has no intention of demanding unlimited access of to all Russian nuclear sties, a source at the American embassy in Russia told Interfax on Thursday.
"We are not trying to get unlimited access to Russian nuclear facilities, that is a misunderstanding of the situation," he said.
However, he said that the United States is funding the joint nuclear threat reduction program known as the Nunn-Lugar initiative.
"The program involves scores of nuclear facilities in Russia and the degree of American involvement in their operations varies. In some cases we are only conducting routine work to raise the safety of the zone where the facility is located, in others, we are directly involved in the elimination of nuclear materials," the diplomat said.
"The access of the American side to the facilities participating in the program is in question. We simply want to see how our money is being spent," he said. "Researchers should sometimes see how work is progressing," he said.
During her recent visit to Moscow U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said the Untied States is determined to make progress on inspections of Russian nuclear facilities.
1. Russia Continues Scrapping Rail-Based Missile Launchers
BBC Monitoring and Itar-Tass
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The Strategic Missile Troops (SMT) together with the Russian company ASKOND are implementing the programme of scrapping combat railway-based missile systems under the Soviet-US Treaty on the Reduction and Limitation of Strategic Offensive Arms (Start-1). ITAR-TASS has been told at the Russian Defence Ministry that "a document was signed today on the destruction of the third rail-based mobile missile launcher this year at the SMT's central maintenance base in Bryansk".
According to the agency's source, "so far, a number of systems have been taken away from the strategic land-based nuclear forces". "Missile systems that have reached the end of their service life are being scrapped," he stressed. At the same time, "not all components of the systems are destroyed, only rail-based mobile launchers for the transportation, storage and launch of three-stage solid-fuel RS-22V ICBMs [intercontinental ballistic missiles] (SS-24 Scalpel under NATO classification)".
The scrapping of the missiles themselves and their multiple independently targeted re-entry vehicles (10 warheads on each missile) are carried out at other bases. The dual-purpose material and technical resources that are freed up will be sent for further use by other ministries and departments of the Russian Federation. It is planned to scrap at least six rail-based mobile launch systems (RMLS) this year.
Since 1989, the SMT have received 39 RS-22V ICBMs. The regiment equipped with Scalpel missiles has a train of three diesel locomotives and 17 wagons, including three RMLSs.
1. Russia's Nuclear Agency to Contribute 30Mln Rubles to an IAEA Program
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Russia's Cabinet of Ministers has instructed the Federal Agency for Atomic Energy, known by its Russian acronym, Rosatom, to contribute 30 million rubles ($1 equals 27.79 rubles) to an international program on innovative nuclear reactors and fuel cycles. The money for the program, run by the International Atomic Energy Agency, is to be disbursed by installments over a period of one year.
A decree to the effect has been signed by the Prime Minister, Mikhail Fradkov, the Cabinet's press office reports.
Russia's contribution to the IAEA program will be coming from the funds earmarked in the federal budget for international cooperation. The first installment, 26 million rubles, is to be submitted to the IAEA's extra-budgetary fund.
Rosatom is also going to allocate an additional 4.2 million rubles for research projects conducted in Russia as part of this particular IAEA program, as well as for supporting Russian representation on its governing committee.
Russia's Federal Agency for Atomic Energy was founded on March 9, 2004, to replace the Atomic Energy Ministry. This government body administers the use of atomic energy in Russia, and is responsible for nuclear and radiation security. It also reports to the UN nuclear watchdog and other international organizations on Russia's implementation of commitments to ensure the safety of the nuclear material it holds.
Rosatom spokespeople have specified in a RIA Novosti interview that the project at hand is known as INPRO. Its goal is to develop criteria for creating a nuclear power industry of the 21st century. Specifically, it will need to identify optimal characteristics for nuclear reactors and nuclear fuel cycle.
The INPRO program was launched in 2000 at Russia's initiative and under the auspices of the IAEA. It is aimed at developing innovative technologies for nuclear power engineering, taking due account of specific national and regional features of the participants.
Twenty-one countries are now taking part in the INPRO program, including India, Pakistan and China. Russia is one of the program's main donors. Some of the funding comes from the IAEA coffers.
The main purpose of George Bush's visit to Moscow in May is to attend the celebrations of the 60th Anniversary of VE Day.
Normally, such visits do not include a busy work program because there is simply no time. However, judging by the serious preparatory work conducted by U.S. State Secretary Condoleezza Rice during her recent visit to Moscow, the schedule of President Bush's visit to the Russian capital will be as busy as it is festive.
The number of topics for the two presidents to discuss is increasing, which would have certainly been a positive sign, had they not been overshadowed by growing tension, reciprocal distrust and a lack of understanding in relations between Russia and the U.S. The presidents will undoubtedly address the most urgent problems during their meetings in Moscow.
First, the non-proliferation of nuclear weapons and fissionable materials. This problem is not new, but the U.S. is currently concerned about two practical aspects: the Iranian nuclear program, and security at Russian nuclear facilities. Both Moscow and Washington are categorically opposed to Iran becoming a nuclear power by acquiring nuclear weapons. In this sense their interests coincide. The disagreement comes with the choice of the best way to achieve the desired result. The U.S. has stated on numerous occasions that it is ready to use force to halt the Iranian military nuclear program. Russia pursues the opposite strategy. The day before Rice arrived in Moscow, the deputy secretary of the Iranian Supreme National Security Council, Hussein Musavian, visited Moscow. The Kremlin wanted to receive assurances from the Iranian leadership that it would uphold its moratorium on uranium enrichment and that an agreement would be signed on the return to Russia of spent nuclear fuel from the Bushehr nuclear power plant. Spent fuel can be used to make weapon-grade plutonium.
However, given that few people in America believe a political solution could be found to the problem of Iranian nuclear program, for the first time in the last 25 years, the U.S. Congress announced a plan to spend $3 million on supporting democracy in Iran. At the same time, Washington is still considering using force. Several weeks ago, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld spent two days visiting Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Kyrgyzstan and Azerbaijan, literally circling Iran in an attempt to find the best bridgehead for a possible military operation against that country.
The security of Russian nuclear facilities is another "old subject" of Russian-U.S. talks. During the summit in Bratislava, the sides signed a joint statement on cooperation in the sphere of nuclear security. The statement focuses on stricter account for and control over weapons-grade fissionable materials and components of nuclear weapons. During the Soviet era, Russia traditionally addressed this problem by imposing strict criteria on personnel working with nuclear weapons and their components, rather than through the use of sophisticated technology. In the new economic situation and with the emergence of transnational terrorist networks that want to acquire nuclear weapons, the need for advanced equipment to protect and maintain control over nuclear weapons in Russia has greatly increased. The U.S. is interested in providing this equipment and helping Russia to prevent nuclear weapons from falling into the hands of terrorists.
However, the Bratislava statement became something of a detective story. The Russian version of the text, posted on the Kremlin Web site, contained a paragraph suggesting that the American inspectors would gain access to Russia's nuclear facilities as early as this year. The next day, this paragraph was removed, and the authorities told the press that a copy of an interim and uncoordinated document had been made public due to a "computer glitch"; the Russian government did not intend to allow American inspectors to visit the country's nuclear facilities.
However, during the visit to Moscow, Rice announced after a dinner with Russian Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov, that she had secured better access for American experts to these facilities, but there was still some work to be done. This work has apparently been left for the presidents. All this suggests that the problem of U.S. inspections of Russian nuclear facilities has been discussed and will remain on the agenda in the future. Putin's administration simply does not want to attract too much attention to the subject from Russia's radical political groups. After all, these groups have already accused the president of betraying national interests, jeopardizing Russia's sovereignty and transferring control over Russia's nuclear facilities to the Americans.
These accusations are certainly groundless and amateurish. No one is inviting the Americans to visit the Command Center of the Strategic Missile Forces or allowing them access to nuclear missile control systems. The inspections might also be organized so they do not include the most sensitive nuclear weapons manufacturing facilities. The U.S. does not need these nuclear secrets, though. The Americans know how to make nuclear weapons as well as the Russians do. But when it comes to the security of nuclear facilities, the U.S. could provide a great deal of necessary assistance.
Second, post-Soviet territory: increased authoritarian tendencies in Russia, the "color" revolutions and their results.
The presidents will have to work out a "code of conduct" on the post-Soviet territory. The Kremlin is very sensitive about U.S. actions that lead to a decline in Russia's influence in traditional zones. During her recent visit to Moscow, Rice did everything to reassure the Russian leadership that U.S. policy in the former Soviet Union was not focused on damaging Russia's interests. "...we see this as not a zero-sum game, but one in which everybody has much to gain, when there are prosperous, democratic countries in the area of the neighboring states around Russia," she stated. Unfortunately, Georgia, Ukraine and particularly Kyrgyzstan cannot be considered either prosperous or even economically developed countries, and the former two have already developed a number of problems in relations with Russia. In general, persistent attempts to spread the U.S. model of democracy often work against the United States itself. It would be inappropriate to address the situation with the U.S. presence in Iraq here, but it is worth mentioning that America, loyal to its "vision of democracy," helped the democratic opposition in Kyrgyzstan. However, it could hardly have expected that the democratic revolution would turn into violence, looting and plunder. Fortunately, the authorities have managed to take the situation under control, for now, but the Kyrgyz opposition remains weak and fragmented. Meanwhile, the desire for political reforms affects regional specifics and intensifies clan confrontation and ethnic antagonisms.
In an attempt to provide assistance to the democratic opposition without knowing the regional specifics of the country, the U.S. inadvertently helped bolster the positions of radical Islamic circles, which is hardly in its interests. Therefore, it is certainly in the interests of both Washington and Moscow to conduct common and coordinated policies on post-Soviet territory, in accordance with the principle formulated by Condoleezza Rice, "My message... will be that a democratic and vibrant and prosperous Russia is in everyone's interests...Our relationship with Russia holds enormous potential."
The "unanimity" displayed by Moscow and Tehran on the eve of U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice's visit to the Russian capital was most opportune.
Moscow had called on Iran to show a certain restraint in terms of using its right to develop nuclear technologies, and Iran had obliged by treating these wishes with understanding.
Hussein Musavian, chairman of the Iranian Supreme National Security Council's foreign policy committee, said, during his recent talks in Moscow, Russia had supported Iran's right to develop modern peaceful nuclear technologies. But Moscow had stressed it would be undesirable for Tehran's wish to exercise this right to undermine the current atmosphere of trust between Iran and the International Atomic Energy Agency, the U.N. nuclear watchdog.
"We intend to retain our rights," said Musavian. "However, we also believe maintaining the atmosphere of trust existing between Iran and the IAEA to be essential."
These comments can only mean that Iran will not lift the moratorium on uranium enrichment or withdraw from the negotiating process either at the current Geneva talks with the European Union on the fate of the Iranian "nuclear file" or in the near future.
The statement is highly symbolic, considering that on the eve of the meeting between the Iranian and EU working groups in Switzerland, Sirus Naseri, Iran's senior negotiator on nuclear talks with Europe, said Iran would withdraw from the negotiating process with the EU unless progress was made in this dialogue.
By progress at the talks, Tehran means the EU's unconditional recognition of Iran's right to create a full fuel cycle of its own, in other words, to develop a uranium enrichment program. This demand is completely unacceptable for the EU, considering that the United States is strongly opposed to anything of the kind.
Musavian's statement is also symbolic because it was made literally a few hours before Rice arrived in Moscow.
Russian-Iranian cooperation in the nuclear field has blighted Russian-U.S. relations for years. An agreement on supplies of Russian nuclear fuel to Iran's Bushehr nuclear power plant, signed in Moscow right before Russian President Vladimir Putin met President George W. Bush in Bratislava, Slovakia, was fiercely criticized by many figures within the U.S. president's inner circle. Rice was no exception. No one doubted she would raise the matter in Moscow in a bid to clarify the Kremlin's position in the run-up to the next presidential meeting May 9.
Moscow's position on the Iranian "nuclear file" is fundamentally different from Washington's. It prioritizes the IAEA's role and diplomatic efforts, notably, Tehran's talks with the EU troika: Britain, Germany and France. Moscow has never concealed its belief a perfect solution for all sides would be if Tehran and the IAEA signed an additional protocol giving the agency the right to conduct inspections without prior notification and Iran promised to maintain its uranium enrichment moratorium in the near future.
Musavian's visit to Moscow showed on the one hand, nothing has changed in Russia's position either in Iran's or America's favor, and on the other, that sometimes Tehran is inclined to heed Moscow's wishes, if not recommendations. Many experts are inclined to think Moscow deliberately timed Musavian's arrival in Russia to pre-empt Rice's visit.
All this has a logic of its own. Moscow let the United States understand that it still intends to be guided by its own interests and uphold its own position in nuclear cooperation with Iran, whatever Washington's reaction. Lastly, by declaring its position in advance, Moscow saved Rice the trouble of clarifying some details that may be unpleasant for the United States.
When talking about Iran's nuclear project in Moscow, Rice did not fail to point to the "dubious" nature of Iran's civil nuclear research. This was hardly a surprise. What was genuinely surprising, though, was that she acknowledged that from the standpoint of the nuclear non-proliferation treaty, the agreement between Russia and Iran on the supplies of nuclear fuel for the Bushehr nuclear power plant "promotes the cause."
Moscow will go along with Washington in calling for the U.N. Security Council to take up the issue of sanctions against North Korea if Pyongyang does not return to the six-party talks on its nuclear ambitions, diplomatic sources said.
Four of the five permanent Security Council members-Russia, Britain, France and the United States-have now said they support a Security Council discussion of the issue, a senior official with the Bush administration said.
China is the only holdout.
The United States plans to urge China to either apply more pressure on North Korea or accept talks at the Security Council, the sources said.
In his Thursday news conference, U.S. President George W. Bush said the six-party approach is the only way to convince the North to give up its nuclear ambitions, but noted that nevertheless going to the Security Council was a ``potential option.''
Bush also said that he would ``continue to work with our friends in Japan and South Korea'' and that Russian President Vladimir Putin ``understands the stakes as well.''
Washington, having received word from Beijing that Pyongyang would return to the six-party talks, is now waiting for reaction from the North.
But concerns have also been raised about recent moves in the North that could indicate that Pyongyang is preparing for a nuclear test.
Egypt has accepted an offer by Russia to provide nuclear assistance and upgrade strategic relations. Egypt claims it discontinued its nuclear program last year.
Russian officials said Moscow has offered to supply expertise and technology to Egypt's nuclear program including energy and research projects. Egypt has accepted the Russian offer for nuclear cooperation, officials said. They said Cairo and Moscow would soon sign a formal accord that could include nuclear as well as defense and space cooperation.
Russian Federal Atomic Energy Agency director Alexander Rumyantsev said Cairo and Moscow were preparing what he termed a comprehensive cooperation agreement on nuclear energy. Rumyantsev accompanied President Vladimir Putin during his visit to Egypt on April 27, where he met President Hosni Mubarak, Middle East Newsline reported.
In 2004, Egypt appeared to shelve its nuclear energy program. Officials disagreed on the nature of Russia's assistance and the future direction of Egypt's program.
"The parties will discuss concluding technical details of the document aimed at increasing bilateral cooperation in nuclear energy," Rumyantsev said upon arrival in Cairo.
Rumyantsev said Egypt has established a regional research and medical center based on a Russian cyclotron. He said the two countries were ready to install an accelerator to produce nuclear isotopes required for medicine.
The two countries were also discussing what officials said were additional civilian nuclear projects. Officials said they included the establishment of a nuclear-powered desalination plant.
"Russia and Egypt are not talking about building a nuclear plant," Rumyantsev said.
But later Putin's foreign policy adviser Sergei Prikhodko appeared to disagree. Prikhodko said Moscow has sought to renew supplies of military equipment and spare parts to the Egyptian military, construct a nuclear power station and cooperate in space.
Another member of Putin's delegation was Mikhail Margelov, chairman of the Federation Council International Affairs Committee and regarded as a presidential adviser. Margelov said Russian defense and energy contractors have increased their activities in Egypt and other Arab countries.
"A new Middle East policy is an important part of Russia's mission in Eurasia," Margelov said.
Morality aside, President Vladimir Putin's gradual strangling of democracy in Russia provides a valuable case study in the relationship between freedom and competent governance. So far, as freedom dwindles, competence seems to be losing also. That may have implications for U.S. policy.
History does not suggest a one-for-one correlation between democracy and economic growth. Singapore has restricted political freedom yet built a world-class economy; democratic India is growing quickly now, but for many years it embraced self-defeating economic policies.
Yet it is not surprising that societies that tolerate criticism of the powerful generally self-correct more readily and advance more quickly -- a lesson that Russia seems ready to reteach the world. "It is becoming evident," says Yegor Gaidar, "that those who invented the system of checks and balances were not the stupidest in the world."
Gaidar is a Russian economist and former prime minister, and also one of the world's clearer thinkers. With respect to Putin, he has been at times cautiously supportive, at times moderately critical. But on a recent visit to Washington he was notably gloomy, not only about the decline of democracy but also about the practical consequences.
Though "he was never a very great believer in democracy," Putin came to power in 2000 with a sound economic policy and a pragmatic foreign policy, Gaidar said, and in his first term he accomplished some significant reforms. He did so in a Russia that still enjoyed some checks and balances: media and a business establishment not controlled by the Kremlin; regional authorities with their own bases of support; a parliament with a viable opposition.
These were "more or less entirely eliminated, step by step, through the end of 2003," Gaidar said. So when Putin recently proposed a reform of social programs, there was no one to raise questions: not in Duma committee, not on television, not in any chamber of commerce. The reforms, as it happens, were badly needed but stupidly designed, which became clear only when angry protests broke out across the country. Then Putin retreated.
Now the government is unlikely to try again, and other needed reforms also are on hold -- "a textbook example of how to misuse a window of opportunity," Gaidar said. Macroeconomic policy, well-managed in Putin's first term, is untethered. One foreign policy mistake has followed another. Senior advisers privately complain of drift and uncertainty.
As long as oil prices remain high, none of these problems is likely to threaten Putin's regime, Gaidar said. Russia is a major exporter of oil and gas, and the revenue is enough to paper over almost any mistake.
But those same soaring prices may ultimately be the undoing of the one-party state that Putin is re-creating. Economic development in other sectors is stunted, corruption increases, bureaucratic malfeasance is tolerated and then rewarded. Or, as Gaidar says, "oil prices are strongly negatively correlated to the IQ of the leadership."
If and when those prices do fall, Russians will find that the state can no longer fulfill its promises (to military officers, retirees, teachers and so on) and that independent businesses from other sectors are too weak to fill the gap. It is a familiar arc to Gaidar, who has studied the decline of the Soviet economy from the late 1970s, when the Communist cadres of the late Brezhnev era believed high oil prices would last forever, to Gorbachev's ignominious dissolution of a bankrupt state in 1991.
Putin last week called that collapse "the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the century," and added: "The old ideals were destroyed." But it is perhaps less striking that the KGB veteran would mourn the ideals of the gulag state than that he would seemingly forget its hapless incompetence.
If Putin the can-do tough guy turns out to fulfill only half of that promise, there will be cause for the United States to worry -- about the security of Russia's vast nuclear arsenal, for example, or the reliability of the thousands of missiles that could still destroy this country and the world.
And there is reason to worry on behalf of Russia's neighbors, too, because in foreign policy one mistake can trigger the next. The nostalgia for empire that Putin expresses and stokes among his people triggers interventions (in Georgia, in Ukraine) that end in humiliation, deepening popular resentments, which then provoke the leadership into further disastrous interventions.
That rising nationalism, Gaidar said, "is the most serious danger for Russia -- and the world."
1. Joint Press Conference with President of the Palestinian National Authority Mahmoud Abbas (excerpted)
Vladimir Putin, President of the Russian Federation
(for personal use only)
QUESTION: It is well-known that Israel possesses nuclear weapons. At the same time, Israel and other countries, to put it mildly, are opposed to Iranï¿½s civilian nuclear projects. Could you comment on this? Also, do you not think that the pace of implementation of the agreements reached at Sharm-al-Sheikh has slowed down? If this is the case, what can be done to activate this process and ensure that it goes ahead without interruption?
VLADIMIR PUTIN: We do not oppose Iran using nuclear technology for civilian purposes. We think that the Iranian people has the right to use modern technology in all different fields. And we intend to fulfil the agreements that we have with Iran on a nuclear programme, which is, as I said, and I want to stress this, a purely civilian nuclear programme. At the same time, Russia consistently supports the non-proliferation of nuclear weapons, and in this respect we call on the Iranian leadership to renounce efforts to develop nuclear fuel cycle enrichment technology, and we call on Iran to put its programmes in this area under international control, above all under control of the IAEA.
The proliferation of nuclear weapons is very dangerous in general, and it is extremely dangerous in as volatile a part of the world as the Middle East. From a military point of view, it would be absolutely senseless and it would be unacceptable from a humanitarian point of view. If we just imagine for a moment that any one of the countries in this region used nuclear weapons, we in Russia who have lived through the horrors of Chernobyl understand very well that it would be enough for the wind to blow in the wrong direction, and the country that used the nuclear weapon would become the victim of its own action. And if we imagine even for a moment that one of the countries in this region used nuclear weapons against its neighbour, against Palestine, this would mean the complete annihilation of the Palestinian people. Let us never forget this. The desire to acquire nuclear weapons, in my opinion, is no more than the ambition of certain politicians, but it is a very dangerous ambition.
The second question was about the pace of implementation of the Sharm-al-Sheikh agreements. More rapid progress probably could be made, but we need to be very careful in how we go about encouraging this progress. We know what difficulties Israel is encountering, we know the problems that need to be resolved, and we therefore intend to act thoughtfully, taking steps to improve the situation, and not create problems through ill-considered action.
Q Mr. President, it was four years ago when you fist met with Russian President Vladimir Putin. You said you looked into his eyes and you saw his soul. You'll also be meeting with the Russian leader in about a week or so. What do you think of Putin now that he has expressed a willingness to supply weapons to outlaw regimes, specifically his recent comments that he said he would provide short-range missiles to Syria and nuclear components to Iran?
THE PRESIDENT: We have -- first, just on a broader -- kind of in a broader sense, I had a long talk with Vladimir there in Slovakia about democracy and about the importance of democracy. And as you remember, at the press conference -- or if you weren't there, somebody will remember -- he stood up and said he strongly supports democracy. I take him for his word.
I -- and we'll continue to work. Condi just -- Condi Rice, our Secretary of State, just came back and she briefed me that she had a very good discussion with Vladimir about the merits of democracy, about the need to listen to the people and have a government that's responsive.
We're working closely with the Russians on -- on the issue of vehicle-mounted weaponry to Syria. We didn't appreciate that, but we made ourselves clear. As to Iran, what Russia has agreed to do is to send highly enriched uranium to a nuclear civilian power plant, and then collect that uranium after it's used for electricity -- power purposes. That's what they've decided to do.
And I appreciate that gesture. See, what they recognize is that -- what America recognizes, and what Great Britain, France, and Germany recognize, is that we can't trust the Iranians when it comes to enriching uranium; that they should not be allowed to enrich uranium.
And what the Iranians have said was, don't we deserve to have a nuclear power industry just like you do? I've kind of wondered why they need one since they've got all the oil, but nevertheless, others in the world say, well, maybe that's their right to have their own civilian nuclear power industry. And what Russia has said: Fine, we'll provide you the uranium, we'll enrich it for you and provide it to you, and then we'll collect it. And I appreciate that gesture. I think it's -- so I think Vladimir was trying to help there. I know Vladimir Putin understands the dangers of a Iran with a nuclear weapon. And most of the world understands that, as well.
3. Press Statement and Answers to Questions Following Talks with President of Israel Moshe Katsav (excerpted)
Vladimir Putin, President of the Russian Federation
(for personal use only)
QUESTION: This is a question for President Vladimir Putin. You take a somewhat one-sided line on arms supplies. You sell arms to Syria and are also offering Iran the possibility of acquiring nuclear technology. Is it possible that, for the sake of preserving a balance, you could also look at selling arms to Israel. You have excellent aircraft, for example.
VLADIMIR PUTIN: Once again, I want to say that the missiles we are supplying to Syria are close-range air defence systems that are no threat to Israel. In order for them to be a threat, you would have to attack Syria. But you are not planning to do this, surely? So, in this respect I think there is no problem.
Regarding our military-technical cooperation with Israel, we are in favour of developing our work together. As I said during my initial remarks, we plan to sign a military-technical cooperation agreement with Israel. As I understand the situation, when it comes to nuclear cooperation, Israel needs no outside assistance in some areas, but we are ready to develop our cooperation in peaceful nuclear use.
In Iran, we are working on developing nuclear energy use for civilian purposes. We categorically oppose any attempts by Iran to acquire nuclear weapons. Our position fully coincides with that of Israel on this issue.
Now, for the ï¿½sweetestï¿½ part of your question ï¿½ the possibility of selling Russian aircraft to Israel. If you could help us sign contracts with Israel for the sale of fighter planes worth, say, a couple of billion dollars, I would give you the Medal for Services to the Fatherland.
QUESTION: This is a question for the Russian President. I would like a brief and to-the-point answer if possible. Regarding Iran, if Iran rejects the ï¿½Troikaï¿½sï¿½ proposals and the IAEA proposals, will Russia support this issue in the Security Council and will it support the adoption of sanctions against Iran?
VLADIMIR PUTIN: First of all, I want to stress once again that our cooperation with Iran is exclusively in the area of civilian nuclear energy. In order to avoid causes for concern among the international community and among our own public at home, we have included additional clauses in our agreements with Iran. We have obtained that the Iranian side will return spent nuclear fuel from the Bushehr Nuclear Power Plant to Russia in order to avoid the possibility of it being used for subsequent enrichment and being used for nuclear weapons.
But I do agree with you that this is, it seems, not enough. Our Iranian partners must renounce setting up the technology for the entire nuclear fuel cycle and should not obstruct placing their nuclear programmes under complete international supervision. We will decide how to react, including within the framework of the international organisations, depending on the line Iran takes on this whole series of issues.
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