Military history

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YELTSIN’S PROMISE

After he became Russian president, Yeltsin quickly and privately admitted the truth about Soviet biological weapons. On January 20, 1992, he met the British foreign secretary, Douglas Hurd, in Moscow. The British ambassador, Rodric Braithwaite, passed a note to Hurd during the meeting, suggesting he ask Yeltsin about germ warfare. For nearly two years, Braithwaite had been demanding answers about the program. He had been stonewalled. This time, Yeltsin said something “spectacular,” Braithwaite recalled.

“I know all about the Soviet biological weapons program,” Yeltsin told Hurd.

It’s still going ahead, even though the organizers claim it’s merely defensive research. They are fanatics, and they will not stop voluntarily. I know those people personally, I know their names, and I know the addresses of the institutes where they’re doing the work. I’m going to close down the institutes, retire the director of the program, and set the others to work designing something useful, such as a cow with a yearly yield of 10,000 liters. When I’ve checked for myself that the institutes have in fact stopped work, I’m going to ask for international inspection.

“Those people,” Yeltsin said, expressing disgust, “can even make a cow grow an extra leg.”

“We were stunned,” Braithwaite recalled. “We could do no more than thank him.”1

When Yeltsin met Baker in Moscow on January 29, the American secretary of state was equally impressed. Yeltsin proposed another major leap in the downhill arms race, reducing strategic weapons still further. “I saw a different Yeltsin from the man I’d seen before,” Baker recalled. “Whereas in the past he had often seemed vague and rather glib, now he spoke at greater length, with no notes, about highly technical issues.” Yeltsin admitted a Soviet biological weapons program had existed, and he promised to dismantle it “within a month.” He repeated his pledge to British Prime Minister John Major in London on January 30, and to President Bush at Camp David on February 1. Celebrating his sixty-first birthday at Camp David, Yeltsin said, “There has been written and drawn a new line, and crossed out all of the things that have been associated with the Cold War.” Neither Yeltsin nor Bush said anything in public about biological weapons, but Dmitri Volkogonov, the historian, who was advising Yeltsin then, relayed word to reporters during the Camp David summit that they had discussed it. This didn’t make the headlines, which were dominated instead by word of deeper cuts in strategic arms and pledges of cooperation in other areas, but it was noted in news accounts that day. Volkogonov said that Yeltsin promised “a number of centers and a number of programs dealing with this issue have been closed,” and “from 1992 there will be no budget allocations to that program.”2

Sergei Popov, who had carried out some of the most ambitious experiments in genetic engineering at Vector and Obolensk, saw the economic despair all around him. He wasn’t interested in selling his knowledge, he just wanted to escape the hardship. “When it started to collapse,” he said, “people started selling everything from the shelves in the labs. So what we ended up with was almost empty labs. Whatever we had, reagents, equipment, everything had been sold.”

His friend in Cambridge, Michael Gait, sent him an application for a postdoctoral fellowship in England. Popov carefully completed all the paperwork. On his résumé, he stated that in Obolensk, among other things, he was working on “microbiology of pathogens,” but he didn’t say more. He identified himself as a “department chief” who was carrying out studies “on recombinantly produced proteins.” He was careful not to say he was genetically engineering pathogens for weapons. Popov worried that if he mailed the application from Obolensk, the KGB would intercept it, so he drove to Moscow and mailed it from the main post office, figuring it would not be noticed. The letter got through; Gait then wrote back with the news—a grant was awaiting him from the Royal Society.

Popov needed KGB permission to travel out of the country, even temporarily. He told the Obolensk director, Urakov, that he had a grant from the Royal Society, and that he was going to England “to set up connections” for possible business deals. Privately, Popov knew that Urakov wanted to get his son out of Russia. When Popov promised to help with the son, the director did not decline. Urakov turned to the KGB boss in his office. Shall we let him go? Urakov asked.

The KGB man nodded yes. They gave Popov his travel documents.3

Ken Alibek decided to quit the military after the eye-opening visit to the United States in December 1991. “The last straw,” he said, came when a ten-page “summary” of the trip, prepared by Kalinin, the Biopreparat boss, was attached to Alibek’s trip report. Kalinin’s summary falsely claimed the visit “proved the continued existence of an American offensive weapons program.” Alibek now realized that the generals hoped to continue their offensive weapons research, even after the Soviet collapse and the discovery that the United States did not have a program. Alibek took his letter of resignation, dated January 13, 1992, to Kalinin.

“I lived in a country called the Soviet Union,” Alibek recalled telling him. “I served it loyally. It doesn’t exist anymore. So now I’m free.” Kalinin grew angry, and they quarreled. Kalinin accused Alibek of betrayal. Alibek recalled he stalked out of Kalinin’s office. The building was quiet. He went to the personnel office and turned in his badge. He cleaned out his office and never saw Kalinin again.4

Yeltsin had told Bush the truth about the existence of the Soviet biological weapons program, but back in Moscow, the high-ranking generals did not want to tell the whole truth. In words, Yeltsin had finally come clean; but in deeds, what happened next was something else entirely.

When he got home from Camp David in February 1992, Yeltsin appointed a government commission to oversee the disarmament of chemical and biological weapons. Inexplicably, he put two generals from the old guard in charge of it. Anatoly Kuntsevich, a retired lieutenant general who had devoted his entire career to chemical weapons, was named chairman, and Valentin Yevstigneev, the general who was head of the 15th Main Directorate of the Defense Ministry—the biowarfare directorate—was appointed deputy chief. For ten years Kuntsevich had been boss of the Shikhany chemical weapons complex, where, in 1987, reporters and international experts were given the show of chemical weapons. Yevstigneev was directly in charge of the military biological weapons program, which took pathogens from the Biopreparat laboratories and turned them into weapons. Yeltsin had put men of the past in charge of the future.

Yeltsin was a revolutionary and a populist. He enjoyed making a dramatic flourish, but left the hard work of governing to others. When he received the American and British ambassadors in Moscow on April 4, 1992, he was in a confident and expansive mood. On biological weapons, Braithwaite made this notation in his journal of the meeting:

Yeltsin says he is determined to fulfill the promise he made to the Prime Minister in January. He has already retired the general in charge, and will be closing down the production facilities and test sites, and retraining the scientists. I remark that I started badgering the previous government two years ago, but nothing happened: perhaps Gorbachev found the politics too intractable. Yeltsin says with a grin that he has had a lot of trouble with his generals: but they find it difficult to stand up to him.5

What happened next was that the generals stood up to Yeltsin. Russia faced an important deadline on April 15, 1992, for disclosing its past offensive biological weapons program to the United Nations. All parties to the 1972 Biological Weapons Convention—including the Soviet Union—had agreed to make a full declaration by that date as a “confidence building measure.”6 Just four days before the deadline, Yeltsin signed a presidential decree, No. 390, making it illegal to work on biological weapons in violation of the 1972 treaty. Yeltsin instructed his commission within a month to prepare measures for “strengthening openness, trust and broadening international cooperation in the framework of the convention.”7 But then Russia missed the deadline for submitting a declaration about past activity to the United Nations. On April 22, a British diplomat was summoned to the Foreign Ministry and offered a copy of the draft Russian declaration. Looking at the draft, Braithwaite was pleased that it acknowledged an offensive biological weapons program had existed from 1946 to March 1992. “The programme is now closed by Presidential decree, and the sites will be open to inspection. It is at least as much as we could have hoped for,” Braithwaite wrote in his diary. At the same time, Braithwaite worried that experts in London and Washington “will find loopholes in the small print.”8

The gaps were enormous. The draft declaration did not mention Biopreparat, nor the Sverdlovsk anthrax outbreak, nor the genetic engineering of pathogens. The generals had subverted Yeltsin’s promise of full openness.9 On May 5, Braithwaite and an American diplomat, James Collins, delivered a private protest to the Russian Foreign Ministry. On May 7, Braithwaite again badgered a Kremlin official about the biological weapons. According to Braithwaite’s journal, the official acknowledged that Yeltsin was having a hard time “because of the degree of secrecy” in the program “and the number of ‘fanatics’ involved who have a vested interest in keeping it going.”10

On May 27, Yeltsin took another stab toward openness in an interview with the mass-circulation newspaper Komsomolskaya Pravda. The interviewer stated that Yeltsin had known biological weapons were being developed in Sverdlovsk, and only mentioned it in public recently. Why? “First,” Yeltsin replied, “nobody asked me about it. And, second, when I learned these developments were under way, I visited Andropov … when there was an anthrax outbreak, the official conclusion stated that it was carried by some dog, though later the KGB admitted that our military development was the cause.”11

Yeltsin’s six words—“our military development was the cause”—were as close as the Soviet Union or Russia had ever come to a formal acknowledgment that the 1979 epidemic was caused by the military.

When he appeared June 17 before a joint session of Congress in Washington, Yeltsin was once again bold and unequivocal. “We are firmly resolved not to lie any more,” Yeltsin declared, to applause. “There will be no more lies—ever.” This also applied to “biological weapons experiments,” he said.12 After their summit meeting, Yeltsin and Bush also announced agreement on still-deeper cuts in strategic nuclear weapons.

Yet even as Yeltsin promised “no more lies,” the deception went on. A fresh jolt came when a junior scientist from Pasechnik’s institute began talking to the British in the spring or early summer. The scientist was given the code name Temple Fortune. What alarmed the British was that the scientist described a biological weapons program continuing even after Yeltsin had promised to shut it down. The defector said that Pasechnik’s old facility, the Institute of Ultra-Pure Biological Preparations in the former Leningrad, now St. Petersburg, had continued to develop an antibiotic-resistant Yersinia pestis, the plague agent. Moreover, the defector said all the research and development was completed by the spring, and the agent was being prepared for large-scale production. The factory would be located about two miles north of the institute in Lakhta. The defector said a cover story was being prepared that it was for making civilian pharmaceuticals. Once again, it appeared that Yeltsin was not in control.

The question of Russia’s honesty about biological weapons was important not only because of the past violations of an international treaty but also for the future of the Nunn-Lugar legislation to clean up the legacy of the Cold War. If Russia was found to be violating the biological weapons treaty, under the provisions of the law it could not qualify for money from Nunn-Lugar. The money was flowing already, but a violation of the treaty would be seized upon by critics to turn off the spigot.

In meetings in June with British and American officials, the Russians offered three different drafts of their proposed United Nations declaration. Kuntsevich, the general Yeltsin had put in charge of compliance, insisted the declaration met all the legal requirements. But all three drafts were woefully incomplete. It was clear to American officials that the Russians were divided: Yeltsin wanted nothing to do with the germ weapons, but his powerful generals protected their empire, as they had done successfully in the Soviet years.13

At meetings in London on August 25, Douglas Hurd, the British foreign minister, and Lawrence Eagleburger, the acting U.S. Secretary of State, delivered yet another strong and private protest about the biological weapons to Russia’s foreign minister, Andrei Kozyrev, a soft-spoken career diplomat who shared Yeltsin’s ideals. Faced with this, Kozyrev invited American and British officials to come to Moscow, perhaps hoping if they laid out their evidence it might help Yeltsin overcome the generals. The Americans accepted, also hoping a high-level mission might pry open some doors. The U.S. delegation was led by an experienced diplomat, Undersecretary of State Frank Wisner. When he arrived at the Foreign Ministry September 10, 1992, Wisner carried a meticulous, ten-page, double-spaced brief. It was one of the most direct and forceful protests the West had ever made to Moscow on biological weapons. The mood was tentative and tense in the conference room as Wisner began to tell the Russians what was known. Kuntsevich was not present, but Yevstigneev, his deputy and head of the military biowarfare directorate, was there.

Wisner correctly identified the massive operation of Biopreparat, the genetic engineering research at Obolensk and Koltsovo, and the critical link played by Pasechnik’s institute in preparing pathogens for delivery. Wisner pointed out the huge manufacturing plants ready to spring into action, including Stepnogorsk, the anthrax factory—none of which were in the draft declaration. He identified the secret role of antiplague institutes in helping the offensive weapons program. And he told the Russians that the official explanations for the Sverdlovsk outbreak were untrue.

Then, on the eighth page, in the most dramatic turn in his presentation, Wisner referred to the information that had come from the informer Temple Fortune—information that work on biological weapons was going on “over the past year,” which meant the months Yeltsin was in power.

We have reports that the All Union Institute of Ultra-Pure Biological Preparations in St. Petersburg is constructing, equipping, and staffing a facility at Lakhta designed to do scale-up work to allow industrial production of a strain of plague—a strain developed to be resistant to cold and heat and to 16 antibiotics—for offensive purposes.

Wisner also revealed that the United States now knew exactly how the Soviets had covered up the germ warfare activity at Ultra-Pure when the American-British team had first visited in January 1991. He said they knew that information was destroyed that would be incriminating; laboratories were cleaned to remove traces of plague bacteria; employees who knew what was going on were sent away; and microphones were installed to monitor every conversation. After the visit, the institute continued to refine the plague agents. Wisner said the United States believed that “by the spring of this year, according to the information we have been provided, research and development was completed and the question of the suitability for large-scale production resolved.” This added a note of super-urgency; Wisner was accusing the Russians of getting ready to manufacture a super-plague weapon.

Wisner’s bill of particulars identified the cities, the programs, the institutes and the disease agents in the Soviet biological weapons program. He hoped this approach would, quietly, begin to pry open the closed doors. But the Russians didn’t flinch. They listened to his presentation stone-faced, and insisted they did not have biological weapons. Among those most recalcitrant was Yevstigneev, the general in charge of the military’s biological weapons program. “They gave not an inch in the face-to-face,” Wisner recalled. No one admitted that the Russian declaration to the United Nations was incomplete. When the Sverdlovsk incident was raised, Yevstigneev once again stuck by the cover-up of previous years. He said it may have been caused by contaminated meat, and he insisted that it was not from Compound 19. He also said that Biopreparat had nothing to do with offensive germ warfare.14

The next day, Wisner and the Russians reached an agreement on a new round of inspections between Russia, the United States and Britain, which became known as the Trilateral Agreement. The Russians had again insisted any inspections be reciprocal, although it was Russia, and not the United States or Britain, that had violated the treaty. As they had done before, the Russian generals essentially played for time. There had already been one round of inspections in 1991 that had deepened suspicions in the West that the Russians were not telling the full story.

Had Wisner’s indictment become fully public, it might have ignited a firestorm of demands from around the world that Russia simply close everything down at once. But Wisner believed in quiet diplomacy rather than open confrontation. “We came without believing we would get a whole loaf, and over time we got half a loaf,” he said. “Trying to force a public embarrassment, shock, confrontation wasn’t going to get you a thing, and chipping away at the internal contradictions on the Russian side, nudging, pushing along was a better strategy.”

The Trilateral Agreement was unveiled at a press conference in Moscow September 14, 1992. In a joint statement, the three countries “reaffirmed their commitment to comply fully” with the Biological Weapons Convention and “declared their agreement that biological weapons must have no place in the armed forces.” Russia said it had taken measures to “remove concerns over compliance,” including “the cessation of offensive research,” budget cuts and closing of facilities. The statement said Yeltsin had ordered a “checkup” of Ultra-Pure in St. Petersburg “in response to expressed U.S. and British concerns.”

At the press conference, the Russians insisted everything was just fine. Grigori Berdennikov, the deputy foreign minister who led the Russian side in the talks, said that after Yeltsin’s decree, “activities that would be running counter to the convention are not undertaken in this country.” Yevstigneev brushed aside any suggestion that plague research was conducted at Pasechnik’s institute. They were actually making “a vaccine to prevent chicken plague,” he insisted.

The new Russia was not yet completely open, and Wisner said he realized the mission had not been a total success. “The Russians didn’t say, ‘Ah hah! You got us! We’ll comply.’” In fact, in the private meetings as well as the public the Russians had lied to the Americans repeatedly.

The collapse of the Soviet Union opened a door for Matthew Meselson, the microbiologist at Harvard University, to further investigate the Sverdlovsk anthrax epidemic. He had been consulted about it by the CIA in 1980, visited Moscow to inquire in 1986 and brought the Soviet officials to the United States in 1988, when they claimed contaminated meat had been the cause. But Meselson had never been allowed to go to the scene of the epidemic.

In the autumn of 1991, a local legislator in Sverdlovsk, Larissa Mishustina, demanded that Yeltsin organize a new investigation. Mishustina represented families of the deceased; she said they had received only fifty rubles each, and the military continued to deny any responsibility for the deaths. “I think you know not less than I do that the death of 70 people was the consequence of a leak of bacteriological weapons,” she wrote to Yeltsin. Following her appeal, on December 6, 1991, Alexei Yablokov, the prominent environmentalist whom Yeltsin had appointed to be his counselor on ecology and health care, wrote out a spravka, or information memorandum, on the situation and then a separate letter to Yeltsin, saying the official version of events had hidden the truth about the military’s role. Beyond a doubt, Yablokov wrote, the epidemic was linked to Compound 19. Yablokov also said he had learned that the primary official documents had been destroyed by the KGB a year earlier.15

When Meselson heard of Yablokov’s interest, he sent a letter January 22, 1992, offering to help any investigation. Yablokov replied February 5, saying he had doubts “that after all these years you can find scientific evidence” of what happened at Sverdlovsk. Meselson pressed him again. On March 23, Yablokov responded, referring to the case as “skeletons” in the closet. By coming to Sverdlovsk to investigate, “You can only catch some rumors and visit cemetery with 64 graves,” he wrote. Nevertheless, Yablokov helped pave the way for a visit, writing letters of introduction for Meselson.

Meselson led an expedition that included Jeanne Guillemin, a medical sociologist, and other experts.16 They arrived in the city—now back to its original name, Yekaterinburg—in June 1992. They were able to examine the slides and samples from the victims, hidden in 1979 by Grinberg and Abramova. The two pathologists had written a scientific paper, based on their preserved materials on the forty-two cases, which concluded that “these patients died because of inhalation of aerosols containing B. anthracis.”17

The expedition made important discoveries. Mishustina, the local legislator, had obtained from the KGB a list of sixty-four people who were killed in the outbreak, and was able to locate eleven who had survived. Guillemin, assisted by colleagues at the Ural State University, then interviewed relatives and friends of the victims, walking the streets of the area where they were exposed, examining headstones in the cemetery, and investigating medical records. Using this data, she and Meselson mapped where the anthrax victims worked and lived at the time of the epidemic. They also plotted on the map the direction of the wind on Monday, April 2, 1979, using meteorological records. The results were revealing: most of the people who contracted anthrax in those days either worked, lived or attended daytime military reserve classes in a narrow zone downwind from Compound 19 and stretching southward about 2.5 miles. And for another thirty miles or so beyond, sheep and cows died of anthrax.

More than a decade earlier, when he was first called in to consult by the CIA, Meselson had written a question in his notes: “How many persons might have been present within an ellipse fitted to the facility and the various sites where early cases were presumably exposed? How many of those became ill? Where did later cases reside and/or work?”

Now he had answers. The people were inside the ellipse. The victims were under the plume. Meselson, Guillemin and their team had not gone inside Compound 19 nor identified the precise reason for the outbreak, but they peeled away the secrecy that the U.S. government could not penetrate in years of official diplomatic protests to the Soviet and Russian leaders. They found solid evidence that anthrax spores had come from the military facility at Compound 19.18

Alibek, leaving Biopreparat behind, worked for a while as the Moscow representative of a Kazakh bank. But he felt the security services were watching his every move. “My phones soon started to click and crackle every time I made a call,” he said.

In September 1992, Alibek decided to flee to the United States. He got in touch with a Defense Department official whom he had met while on the U.S. inspection tour the year before. In September he and his family left Russia through a third country, and he defected to the United States. It wasn’t a classic defection, since the Soviet Union had collapsed and Russia was still in the first year of its rebirth. But Alibek’s arrival was an intelligence coup for the United States. He was the highest-ranking official of Biopreparat ever to come out.19

Just a week or two later, Sergei Popov also left Russia for the last time. Before buying his plane ticket, he exchanged his monthly salary from rubles to dollars: in his hand he held only $4. He used his savings to buy the ticket. When he arrived at Heathrow Airport in London, no intelligence agents were waiting for him. They never bothered to contact him. On October 1, Popov took up a six-month visiting postdoctoral fellowship at the Laboratory of Molecular Biology at Cambridge University, where Michael Gait was a senior staff scientist. “I had nothing with me, just a small suitcase,” he recalled. Realizing he had no money, his hosts offered a small loan. “I couldn’t tell them what I did before,” Popov recalled. “And I had no intention to tell them.” Popov knew of Pasechnik’s defection, but that role was not what he wanted. “I never contemplated defecting and disclosing secrets,” he said. “My intention was to start a new life and not talk about the past.”

In November, the first results of the Trilateral Agreement, a new round of inspections, got underway. The target was the Institute of Ultra-Pure Biological Preparations in St. Petersburg, where Pasechnik had been director and where the United States and Great Britain feared the Russians were scaling up to manufacture super-plague. Kuntsevich, who was Yeltsin’s point man on chemical and biological weapons, appointed a Russian “Commission of Inquiry,” which met at the institute from November 18 to 21, 1992. A team of American and British observers were invited, but they soon found the whole exercise was a “pathetic setup job,” one of them recalled. The Russian participants, who were handpicked from Biopreparat, the Ministry of Public Health and the Ministry of Defense, mostly watched and listened. Rather than dig into the truth, they were apologists. They announced that there was no biological weapons work going on. The institute director said there never had been any. This was ludicrous in light of the fact that Pasechnik had pioneered such work there, and told the British about it. Among those on the visit was Christopher Davis, who had been one of the leading debriefers of Pasechnik. David C. Kelly, the British microbiologist, later recalled that “it was the American and British observers who actually asked the questions,” rather than the appointed Russian commissioners.

During the November visit, the three buildings that made up the institute were examined again, as they had been in 1991 when Alibek attempted his clumsy cover-up. Again, American and British observers—this time accompanied by the Russian commissioners—spotted a large dynamic aerosol test chamber, a telltale sign of biological weapons research. They asked about its purpose; the answers didn’t add up. The visitors also saw Pasechnik’s milling machine, designed to produce particles of a particular size without damaging the pathogen used in the weapon. It also could not be explained. The “checkup” was over and the Russians had conceded nothing. Their denials made the American and British officials even more suspicious that weapons work was still going on—despite Yeltsin’s orders to stop it.20

The Trilateral process dragged on. At the next stage of the visits, another team of American and British experts went to the All-Union Scientific Research Institute of Veterinary Virology in Pokrov, sixty-one miles east of Moscow, in October 1993. Kelly was among them. At Pokrov, his suspicions were rekindled that a massive Soviet—and now Russian—biological weapons program lay just beneath the surface. While Russian officials insisted they were making vaccines at Pokrov, Kelly saw telltale signs of biowarfare activity. “There were nuclear hardened bunkers and incubators for thousands of eggs. That’s the standard method for growing smallpox virus,” he said. Kelly saw that Pokrov had far more capacity than was needed for vaccines, and the hardened bunkers also seemed to be a giveaway that it was designed for wartime mobilization. But the Russians stuck by the vaccine story, and ducked questions about the past. The visitors were prevented from visiting a sister plant in Pokrov.21

By late 1993, intelligence analysts in the United States and Britain were growing worried that the Russian biological weapons program was still ongoing in defiance of Yeltsin’s orders. One secret intelligence report quoted Yeltsin himself as complaining that the biological weapons work was continuing at three facilities despite his decree. In 1993, Alibek was also being debriefed by the intelligence agencies in the United States.

In the autumn, the United States prepared an overview of the situation —and the evidence—in a top-secret National Intelligence Estimate, a report pulling together information from many different sources.

Soon after the estimate was distributed in the U.S. government, it passed into the hands of Aldrich Ames, who was still spying for Russia from within the CIA. Ames’s last operational meeting with the Russians was on November 1, 1993, in Bogotá, Colombia. According to one source, either at this moment or soon thereafter, he turned over to the Russians the National Intelligence Estimate describing what the United States knew about Moscow’s biological weapons program, including specific locations. If the Russians wanted to conceal their germ warfare effort with even greater effectiveness, they had just received a helping hand: Ames delivered to them everything the Americans knew.

There were no more visits to Russian laboratories for a long time. The Trilateral process stumbled on in 1994, when the Russians demanded two visits to facilities of the American pharmaceutical giant, Pfizer. The company was reluctant, but eventually agreed, under pressure from the White House. The Russians also demanded a visit to the Vigo plant in Indiana, where, at the end of World War II, the United States had built the capability for large-scale fermentation of anthrax and a bomb-filling line. It was now abandoned, and as Kelly put it, “the archeological evidence was clearly of 1940s vintage.” The Trilateral process ground to a halt.

On April 7, 1994, Yeltsin abruptly dismissed Kuntsevich, the general whom he had appointed two years earlier to head his committee on chemical and biological weapons. The Kremlin press service said Kuntsevich was relieved of his duties for a “one-time gross violation of work responsibilities.” Details were not disclosed at the time, but came to light the following year when Kuntsevich ran for the lower house of parliament, the State Duma, on the party list of ultranationalist Vladimir Zhirinovsky. Russian officials revealed that he was under investigation for helping arrange an illegal delivery of about seventeen hundred pounds of nerve gas precursor agents to Syria and for planning a much bigger shipment. However, Kuntsevich was never prosecuted in Russia. He insisted he had run afoul of internal politics. But the United States thought the charges were serious enough to impose sanctions on Kuntsevich for “knowingly providing material assistance” to Syria’s chemical weapons program.22

The weapons of the Cold War had been spread around the globe by an insider who was supposed to be protecting them.

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