A U.S. researcher on Wednesday told a House panel that he "presumes" Russia has an active biological weapons program, Time magazine reported.
Milton Leitenberg, a University of Maryland senior scholar focusing on biological arms, told the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Europe that Russia does not permit outside inspections of three of its scientific facilities. As a result, he said it is not possible to know the current status of the country's biological weapons program.
"We don't know what they're doing," the arms control specialist said. "They may or may not have an active offensive program -- I presume they do."
Leitenberg noted that the U.S. government does not assess Russia to be "producing and stockpiling [biological] agent any more."
With the fall of the Soviet Union, Russia assumed control of much of its biological weapons-related infrastructure. Moscow says it does not retain a biological arsenal and is not conducting any research into offensive uses for pathogens. However, a 2012 essay by President Vladimir Putin raised concerns that he foresees the development of a new class of biological arms made to be extra potent through genetic modification.
Russia's recent incursion into Ukraine has caused tensions with the West to spike to their highest point since the end of the Cold War. With the uptick in tensions, old worries have returned about Russia's weapons of mass destruction capabilities.
Moscow is a member of the Biological Weapons Convention. However the BWC accord does not have a mechanism for ensuring that signatories are in compliance with the treaty's prohibition against the creation, production and possession of lethal pathogens -- such as smallpox and anthrax strains -- that have been modified so they can be disseminated on a large scale.
Amy Smithson, a senior fellow with the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies, said it is feasible to find out about a nation's potential biological weapon activities even without an enforcement mechanism in the treaty. She pointed to the efforts of U.N. weapon inspectors in Iraq after the first Gulf War, which resulted in Baghdad being forced to acknowledge its work on chemical and biological arms.
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