Expert Tells Congress He ‘Presumes’ Russia Has Biological Arms Program

Global Security Newswire Staff
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Global Security Newswire Staff
May 9, 2014, 9:24 a.m.

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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