LEONID FITUNI is the
Director of the Center for Strategic and Global Studies in Moscow. His areas
of expertise include strategic and crisis issues, economic transition in the
former Soviet Union, and nuclear proliferation and organized crime in Russia.
He is currently an advisor to the Russian Foreign Ministry and the Ministry of
Foreign Economic Relations of the Russian Federation.
This interview was conducted in 1996.
Q: You have pointed out that so far there are no Russians in jail
for smuggling nuclear materials, which is the story lots of people focus on.
Given that, you said that you do have some concerns about the larger
situation. Will you discuss those concerns with me?
FITUNI: Of course the dangerous thing is that on one hand, the
population is impoverished, the deplorable state of our scientists who work in
the nuclear industry, and on the other hand, the corruption of not necessarily
all, but government officials who unfortunately interpret the notion of
"market" in a very primitive way--even after five years of reforms. It's an
opportunity to grab the money, run, and hide so that no one can catch you.
Interpreting the market in this primitive way, people are ready to use any
means to get huge amounts of money in one go and then disappear to spend the
rest of their life in Hawaii, or somewhere else in the U.S., say in "little
Odessa" in Brighton Beach. Now that's the real danger.
So, there are no officially registered cases of stealing nuclear materials
intended for military use. The two times when theft did occur from guarded
facilities, it didn't involve materials for nuclear use, but rather, for fuel.
One of the cases happened in the North Fleet where highly enriched material was
stolen (not for military use, but for fuel) although it wasn't highly enriched
material, it wasn't taken from a nuclear warhead or any other military device.
But it was taken from the fuel which is used in nuclear reactors. As far as
military material or devices, or nuclear materials for military use are
concerned, not one country has yet to say that they apprehended any Russian
citizen or former citizen living in the U.S., who had this form of nuclear
material in their possession. This is the situation right now.
At the same time, though, there were many cases officially reported in our
press where people, either by not knowing or intentionally hoping to deceive
their potential buyers, stole other radioactive materials from the workplace.
(For instance, material enriched to a lesser degree, or not enriched at all.)
There were lots of cases where people working in the defense industry stole
metal objects that were radioactive from dump-sites, and passed them off to
buyers as parts of a nuclear bomb. Such cases definitely happened. But in
order to be fair, I would like to point out that the problem with controlling
plutonium (which today is probably the central most dangerous radioactive
material) is not only a problem for us, but for other countries. As you know,
recently the U.S. Congress became interested in unaccounted-for plutonium,
giving the Secretary of the Department of Energy many painful hours of trying
to explain its disappearance. So this is a global problem.
I myself work in the Center for Strategic and Global Studies: I'm not a
specialist in technical matters. I'm more interested in matters of safety and
in questions concerning the social situation in the country and how it affects
the nuclear problem - and finally the economic and criminal aspects -- to what
extent if any, organized crime is involved in this issue, or maybe even
government officials. If they are involved, is it sporadically or on a
regular basis? I feel that these questions are much more important these days.
The question of stability remained the focal point for our country during these
last five years. And I wouldn't say that nowadays we have any more stability
than in 1991, 1992, 1993.
Q: Many people have written about the question of organized crime and
nuclear security. It seems to me that that's the wrong question, and I think
you're saying that as well. It seems to me that the more important one is the
one you touched on. If there were corruption somewhere at the top, in the
government somewhere, at one institute, at one laboratory...is it possible to
prevent some big sale, some big deal from happening?
FITUNI: This is a crucial question I'd say, both on a global level and
for those who actually work on these problems. Because when you're dealing
with corruption, there is another painful side. Government officials
involved in corruption, are more afraid of the press, although the press in our
country is maybe not that influential. When journalists investigate cases of
corruption thoroughly and professionally, and with evidence, then the results
are published. But then the consequences for the authors are very harsh
because, unfortunately, our government doesn't have to answer to anyone.
Unfortunately, I can't give you any names, with the exception of those cases
already published, for instance those cases concerning material stolen from
research labs, or attempts to sell radioactive materials (or not radioactive,
but connected with production of nuclear weapons, like the well-known story
about stolen red-mercury) regardless of whether or not they were true. To a
certain extent all these cases involved at least one, and sometimes several,
high-ranking officials. As far as the case with the North Fleet is concerned,
an official of the municipal government was under investigation. That means,
the problem does exist and that, indeed, it is very real. The other side of
the problem is that although the government is interested in unmasking and
apprehending the perpetrators, the fact is that if the stealing involves
government channels, the authorities often prefer not to reveal anything.
Investigations dealing with the corruption of high officials were made public
by the president during his election campaign. He fired a number of accused
officials. So, the problem exists and it's not made up. We cannot exclude the
participation of corrupted officials in activities of this sort.
Q: Is it possible to describe in a simple way the nature of the
corruption in the state bureaucracy, in general?
FITUNI: Generally speaking, today in Russia, we have perhaps one of
the worst government arrangements in the history of government. Broadly,
practically all the ministries are permeated with corruption. These are the
abuse of power in order to become rich, and direct ties with the criminal
world. These ties don't only exist on the lower and middle levels. They exist
within many different levels of the branches of government: legislative and
executive. I think that the judicial branch has also been affected.
Especially difficult situations exist in the remote provinces, because being
far away from Moscow's at least minimal control, local administrators, whether
they are heads of the local administration or representatives of Moscow, are
as a rule uncontrollable and play the role of local tsars.
To look at the core of the issue and at what caused these problems, I'd like
to return to the fact that all the processes that were taking place in Russia,
perceived in the West as democratization, were taken over to a significant
degree by opportunists (in a Western sense of the word, not the
Marxist/Leninist sense). These people discovered that the country's situation
was turning in their favor, and they could easily, without any authority from
the government, amass an enormous amount of resources. And this is the root
cause of the corruption.
Q: And what about corruption in the military and among former members
of some of the security services.
FITUNI: This question is more complicated to answer because both
organizations are closed now, due to their nature. But I can say confidently
that at the very least, the military has also significantly suffered not from
corruption in its pure form, but from characteristics typical not of an army,
but of trade organizations. It's enough to say that some of our military
districts have created their own banks which receive money from Moscow
earmarked for its own needs. Naturally, these banks want to keep the money as
long as they can in order to use it in all possible ways to earn interest,
increasing the amount, a big part of which is given to the banks by the state,
would be eaten up by inflation. All this is given out to officers and
soldiers to buy provisions and necessary goods. And this is the reason for
such awful occurrences as the deaths by starvation among our soldiers in the
Far East, and other problems.
Q: And about the security services or the former members of the
security services. Who guards the guards? Isn't that one of the big problems
FITUNI: The problem is that before the breakup of the Soviet Union,
there was, in fact, one big special service called the KGB. This agency was
responsible for everything, and it held a very high level of responsibility.
In other words, if a member of the organization violated his duties and
contract, or broke the moral code, he could face serious consequences-- even if
he ended up somewhere in a foreign country.
The KGB performed this task by surveying those people who were cleared for
working with military materials. Therefore, the agency could do its job
without sophisticated electronic systems, complex technologies - although these
technologies did exist at that time. The agency assumed that the people
cleared for work in the facilities would not think of stealing these materials
or of selling them to anyone. Their standard of living was, as a rule, higher
than that of their colleagues in non-secret companies. These people used to
have special privileges. But no more. Now, nuclear specialists are ordinary
Russian scientists, and economically, scientists are in the worst situation
among those who have work in today's Russia. As a result, the old methods of
control don't work today.
We now have many quite efficient people in law enforcement - border guards,
paratroopers, and so forth. Many of them now work for private security firms,
and are either connected with or under the control of organized crime. Here we
are dealing with the danger presented by people who underwent special training
and who can use their exclusive knowledge, not for a noble cause - such as
protecting humanity from nuclear threat - but with absolutely different goals.
It doesn't matter who steals the nuclear material - a former KGB colonel or a
janitor. In my opinion, it's easier to deal with a theft implemented by
specialists, because professionals usually follow schemes that could easily be
solved by an investigator. Because the specialist would employ certain ways,
say of looking for a buyer or of hiding certain material, and so on. But if
the material is stolen by an amateur, or by an ordinary person who would carry
the material in a shopping bag, and put it, say in the attic of his house, it
would be practically unsolvable.
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