(This interview appeared in the Russian weekly newspaper, Vek , in the
Sept 22-28, 1995 issue.)
General Gennady Mikhailovich Yevstafiev
heads the Division on Arms Control
and Nonproliferation of Nuclear Weapons of the Foreign
Counter-intelligence Service (SVR), the successor to the KGB.
As a member of the Russian delegation for arms control negotiations, he has had
a long-term impact on shaping Russian nuclear policy. In his current position,
he is the senior Russian intelligence officer responsible for incidents of
theft or diversion of nuclear materials on the territory of the Russian
Before joining the SVR, he was a member of the diplomatic
service and worked as a special assistant to the General Secretary of the UN.
"The Nuclear Mafia in Russia. The Truths and Myths."
General Gennady Yevstafiev answers questions from "Vek"
First of all: how did the anti-Russian campaign in the nuclear sphere
The problem of NOYaM (Illegal Trade in Nuclear Materials) exists
without a doubt. But, in terms of the notorious topic of a "drain" of
nuclear materials from Russia, then its initiators(?) were the Germans.
The Americans were the most recent to join in. First of all, the fact
jumps to your eyes that until October of last year, the drain was the
problem of only one country -- FRG. 90% of the seizures of illegal nuclear
materials were made on its territory. This fact surprised everyone....
eventually it becomes clear to everyone that if certain events are
happening only on the territory of one country, then that country must have
some special interests at stake.
We all know that in the last few years Germany has been breaking the laws
regarding the export of strategic materials and equipment. German firms,
over the course of many years, have been fundamental suppliers to the
so-called Threshold States in spite of the limitations imposed formerly by
KOKOM, and they received huge profits. It is true, as a result of this,
export control was made more strict. And we must give the Germans their
due, they did take effective measures. Immediately, many small companies
began to fold. Even a few big sharks which had broken the law fell. One
can say that this put the German government in a very uncomfortable
At the same time, the Soviet Union collapsed. It is possible that the West
really did fear the leak of nuclear materials, all the more so since
instead of the previous single country, there were now four separate
nuclear states. Somewhere, the idea was generated that Russia should take
under its control almost the entire nuclear complex -- both the civil and
That is the background on which the cases of "leaks" developed. It is not
by chance that the special forces of several Western countries were
associated with provocation [sting operations], including first of all,
Germany. This fact was proven by the official materials from the trial
which were published by "Der Spiegel." Later there were several cases in
the Czech Republic and Hungary. In Hungary, they didn't find anything in
the container. In the Czech Republic they did find something, and it was
enriched enough material, but it couldn't be used for the production of
The goal of the operation was to prove that everything wasn't OK in the
nuclear complex in Russia. The logic was simple. See, look, here is some
nuclear material that we've stolen. Its poverty and lack of control, make
Russia a criminal in the nuclear sphere. The combination of the hapless
and impoverished nuclear specialists with the criminality and big money
which exists here, makes it impossible to ensure the security of the
nuclear complex and the borders which are full of holes allow anything you
want to flow out to the threshold states or high-risk countries.
I can agree with David Ostias (an advisor to the CIA director) that all
this is either trickery or referring to small quantities that do not
present a military danger. In the CIA there are experienced people who are
well versed in this, and they have always viewed this problem as being
But there is another problem. The recovered material, in 99% of the cases,
did not have any sort of relation to what we call weapons material. This
confusion was consciously introduced. They said that this was
highly-enriched material, but were calling anything above 20% highly
enriched. They were not weapons grade by their condition. Moreover, these
materials were possible to buy on the open market. And at prices 2-3 times
lower than on the "black market." So there was no need to take the risks
to carry the materials and place the passengers of "Lufthansa" at risk.
They say that now "Lufthansa" is bringing suit against the German secret
service for carrying out the operation without warning the airline.
Then the question comes up: why was this done and who benefits?
The operation which was carried out had many goals. It was an artificial
stimulation of demand. An attempt to prove that there exists in Russia
organized crime; that a nuclear mafia similar to the narco-mafias exists
which can order and transfer whatever is needed. But such a mafia does not
exist. This is confirmed by the fact that the people who steal this
material, as a rule hide it very painstakingly for a long time and only
then begin to look for a buyer. Some of them kept it for a year and a half
because they couldn't find a distribution channel or a buyer. In all these
cases, the end-user of the materials is very important. What is most
interesting is that there has not been one case in which we have been able
to get our foreign colleague to give an answer as to who the end-user is
for the material. Claims that it is for Libya, Iran or Iraq become
Secondly, the above named countries can't be dependent on casual and
unclear shipment through non-professionals... All of these countries are
placing their bet on creating an independent system of producing enriched
nuclear materials. They would never get into business with chance
It should be said that the field of information around the nuclear problems
in Russia is filled with such disinformation that it makes your hairs stand
on end. By the way, there was a confirmation, for example, that,
Narzarbaev sent nuclear material from Kazakhstan to the US by airplane.
All of this is nonsense.
And since the distinction between weapons grade and non-weapons grade has
no meaning to the layman, there are many false stories circulated. The
goal of this information is completely political. There was also a social
dimension [to the stings.] The operation was carried out during the period
of an election campaign in Germany, where several politicians were trying
to present themselves as tough on crime and fighters for ecology. In order
to close off the door to nuclear weapons, they were trying to demonstrate
what results they could get in the fight on this important area! They even
took into account their investment in neutralizing the leakage from Russia
and its nuclear disarmament.
Also, there have been hundreds of names of Russian nuclear physicists
listed as having left to work abroad and make something there. Usually,
these stories are about Libya and Iran... All of this has been checked
many times, and confirmation has not been found. We can guess where this
testimony comes from. As a rule, it is from the opposition circles in
If we're speaking sincerely, then the number of people who know how to make
an atomic bomb or a nuclear explosive is extremely limited. The number of
people who work in Minatom and in the scientific nuclear research centers
are counted in the tens. And to say that any worker trained in the field
of nuclear physics is a person who could make a nuclear bomb is an
exaggeration. In order to make the bomb, you need to know how. This field
has its own specifics and systems of organization. It, by the way, was
copied by us from the American systems. But ours systems take into account
our specifics, such as things like closed cities.
There is one other non-trivial situation. I know many nuclear scientists.
Even though they are working, on the whole, for pennies, they remain
patriots of their country and their work.
Since a problem does exist, what difficulties do you come up
Yes, the problem does exist. We are behind in questions of accounting
and control and the providing of security of nuclear and radioactive
materials. They often leak out of agricultural uses, from medicine, and
We distributed so-called 'samples' of enriched material in gram quantities
for carrying out experimental research and calibration. By their
consistency, these materials are not weapons material, but they are very
highly enriched. For example, we provided them to the institute
"Rossendorf," the former nuclear center of the GDR. And now that institute
is in a state of complete neglect.
What is the seriousness of the problem? Our borders are easily
surmountable for these materials. The second problem lies in the fact that
our control points are still poorly outfitted. The EU has decided to
strengthen the technical control on its borders. That is something that we
are facing too, but that requires a great expense.
In principle, we need to start from the fact that for nearly the entire
fifty-year history of dealing with nuclear materials, the system of
physical and nuclear radiation safety and defense of personnel who worked
on these installations was carried out by the counter-terrorist organs. We
need to give them their due, they do their work professionally.
And when they say, I see you have such cases -- who doesn't have
cases? I can tell you about how a year-and-a-half ago in the US, a truck
which was carrying dangerous radioactive wastes from the nuclear industry flipped over. And nobody knew what the wastes were there. The
firefighters who arrived on the scene didn't know what they were fighting
-- just like here at Chernobyl. Only after it was a few hours too late,
did they realize that they should have done everything differently.
Or they say: you have nuclear losses. Well, in England there was 10 kg of
weapons nuclear material. They found 2 kg and they wrote off 8 as waste or
spillage. And in the US, over these years the losses were in the thousands
of pounds. Nobody, by the way, knows how American weapons grade material
ended up in some countries. Nobody knows if they got their hands on it
along with the technology or whether they only got the material itself.
In Norway, at one time, some heavy water was lost and everything worked
out. and so then something gets lost in Russia, and it is immediately a
state of emergency on a global scale. There is a lot of speculation
The nuclear complex is the nuclear complex, so there are a huge number of
'items.' The necessary storage is planned as part of the Nunn-Lugar
program. The Americans wanted us to dismantle our nuclear weapons more
quickly, so we met them part way and they should help us with the
financing. In the end, it is in their national security interests. It is
not by chance that the Nunn-Lugar program is financed with money from the
Yes, we are tight with money. There is not enough for the army, and
Minatom must solve practical problems jointly. And they do solve them.
They remove the weapons from Ukraine. Almost everything has been brought
out of Kazakhstan. It has been brought out of Belarus. We can't beat
ourselves on the breast and scratch our heads with ashes -- there is a lot
of work going on.
And now these newly elected hotheads in the Congress overseas, you see,
decided to freeze the Nunn-Lugar program. Who does this help? They say:
the Russians are taking 400 million dollars. But this money mostly goes to
American companies. In the program there is a statement according to which
they can require to be paid back for everything with our natural resources.
Depending on how "we behave ourselves." And our people who are working on
developing joint production get crumbs in comparison to their workers.
Therefore, in helping us, they are first off helping themselves. Moreover,
in the construction of our installations experience is being accumulated
that they have in mind to use themselves; for example, creating a storage
based on our designs.
I don't know how it is now, but in 1994 their ability to dismantle nuclear
weapons was limited. There were several bases, for example, overloaded
with nuclear warheads. It is well known to us that for the three years
from 1993-96, the number of workers in the nuclear complex will be halved.
They shout at us: your specialists could leave. And why can't their
specialists leave? "No -- they say -- ours can't, nobody would take them,
they can't pay them big money." That's not saying much. It doesn't
lot of specialists, just a few good ones.
There is a lot of work on international cooperation going on. At the
Obninsk Institute of Physics and Power Engineering, where the first nuclear
station was built, a center for ensuring nuclear security, accounting and
control of materials has been established -- with financial and material
help from the US and other western countries. It has become the base
center for training specialists in new systems of accounting and control.
At the Kurchatov Institute and at the "Electrostal" factory the first
accounting and control systems have already been introduced.
It seems that we are responsibly approaching the problem of NOYaM, and
the Americans are still refusing to allow us to supply our reactors to
Iran. How can this be explained? Do they have serious proof, that Iran
has secret nuclear intentions?
-- They say, for example: why help Iran build a nuclear power station when
they have so much oil? This is very easy to answer. When there was the
Shah, he worked out a program for building 22 atomic power stations. And
back then the Iranians had even more oil. And nobody was worried. In
Asia, there is a country that wants to build 12 nuclear power plants and
also has a lot of oil. And this doesn't bother anyone.
This is because of the very clear political situation. The Americans have
a conception of the so-called dual restraint. This is restraining both
Iran and Iraq simultaneously. All of this is related to the Persian Gulf
oil. Whatever we may think of Saddam Hussein and the Iranian mullahs, they
have their own view of national interests. It somehow doesn't coincide
with the interests of the American oil monopolies. And that was the spark
that started the fire.
The Iranians broke the special ties that the Shah had with the Americans.
The US gave Iran joint weapons, and it was a major client-state. Who saved
the F-14 program in America, for example? The Shah. The question with
Iran, is a question of US national politics. And they can't in any way be
hindered by the interests of the world community. The US decides to
overthrow Saddam Hussein, and there they go by any means to this goal...
And so, Iran fell out of the structure of American politics in the Gulf. It
was a strategic ally. Now it is not. Now, let's return to the nuclear
problem. They assert that the fact that the Iranians are developing
nuclear energy means that they have long term goals. It may be. I simply
don't have any data about the fact that they have taken the political step
to create nuclear weapons.
When Stalin made that decision in Russia, there was money set aside for
creating the structure. Espionage searched out atomic secrets because it
needed to be done as quickly as possible. The same thing here. It is
necessary to make the decision, to create the structures, to educate
people, to build a collective. Listen to our specialists from Arzamas --
Voronin and others. What do they say? There should be a highly-qualified
collective of like-minded people, who would work towards one goal, or else
nothing will come of it. Methods of technical espionage and agents can
sketch out such a picture. We don't have such data now. And neither do
they. What is written in their reports is more like propaganda material
than an attempt to present justified facts.
Yes, there is a certain infrastructure that must be created if they are to
work on nuclear weapons. We are conscious of our responsibility. We
signed an agreement with Iran so that we would have an idea of where they
are headed and how they are using the material and equipment that we are
providing. Our president corrected Minatom in time regarding the question
of heavy-water reactors, creating the ability to enrich and use spent fuel,
in order not to give the possibility that it would be regenerated to be
used for different goals. From the Iranian side, so far there have not
been any unforeseen steps.
It is good, for example, that Russia is interested in selling. But Blicks,
IAEA! I know Blicks, I met with him, he went there several times. They
showed him everything. The IAEA experts didn't draw the conclusion that
there exists a military nuclear program. It usually goes in parallel with
a civil program, usually on the same installations, but naturally is not
divulged. Then why make this deal under American political global
interests, that our esteemed American partners decide and force us to
support them at the cost of our commercial interests? They don't suffer
such casualties for our sake. Take commercial rocket-launch vehicles, for
example. On the contrary, they fill the vaccuum. Therefore, both our
sides have not yet found common flag. But, we will continue the search.
The exchange of information. The task of non-proliferation for Russia is
one of the most important.
At the same time, the Nuclear Non-Proliferation treaty says that it is
forbidden to allow access to nuclear technology to a country that hasn't
given a guarantee that it won't use it for military purposes. This is
leading-edge technology. It is the basis for providing for the welfare of
the people. There is even a sort of technological terrorism going on: a
country takes on the corresponding obligations, and they still are refused
What are the prospects for coordinated action to solve such problems
This question was raised at the meeting of the "G-8" with Russia in
Halifax. A declaration was adopted.
The problem itself requires further discussion between the interested
sides, especially the "G-8," nuclear states. A higher level of defense of
nuclear materials is needed. But it is not necessary to over-dramatize it
and make it into a tragedy. We need to work together. Practically. We
have experience in such work. The Czech case, although they tried to turn
it against us, demonstrated this. We helped to capture the criminal on the
territory of Russia because we warned them in advance.
Undoubtedly, the question of NOYaM will be one of the serious questions at
the meeting of the "G-8" on nuclear safety that will take place in Moscow
in the spring of 1996. It is one of the elements of the global problem of
nuclear safety. We consider that the IAEA should play a very big role both
in accounting and in synthesizing and use of positive experience.
Tapes and Transcripts ·