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(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 Federation. 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 develop?

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 position.

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 the military.

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 weapons.

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 trumped up.

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 unsustainable myths.

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 partners.

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 several countries.

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 against?

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 scientific-research institutes.

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 such 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 involved.

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 Pentagon.

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 take a 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 the technology.

What are the prospects for coordinated action to solve such problems as NOYaM?

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.

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