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ICG Risk Blog - [ November 4, 2004 ]

Watching the front door, the wrong door, while mayhem occurs at the back door


It is unlikely that the State Institute of Organic Synthesis Technologies (GITOS), its two facilities, Shikhany-1 and Shikhany-2, and the regional storage facility at Gornyi, all in Russia's Saratov region would mean much to US nationals. They should, as so should their state of deterioration and neglect, of both staff and facilities. We are speaking of one of Russia's larger chemical weapons design and storage facilities. Shikhany-2 is "Russia's primary center for the development of chemical weapons as well as protective measures against chemical, bacteriological and nuclear weapons" and includes the "Defense Ministry's test range for chemical and radiological weapons and defense systems." Shikhany-1 is (was) one of the primary research centers on hazardous chemicals with civilian applications until almost half the staff left after being unpaid for a year.

It is also worthwhile to remember the "Willy Sutton" rule in relationship to WMD fissile packages, bomb-grade nuclear materials, chemical and biological agents, their precursor components, and, of course, the research and production staff able to assemble any of them. (When Sutton was asked by a reporter why he robbed banks, the bank robber replied "Because that’s where the money is.") Al Qaeda certainly has, and their agents and criminal intermediaries are constantly paying attention to weak links in order to buy what they cannot yet fabricate.

Scientists from a former chemical weapons factory in Russia's Saratov Region have written to Russian Emergencies Minister Sergey Shoygu warning him of an impending disaster at the facility. The State Organic Synthesis Technology Institute in the village of Shikhany faces bankruptcy after years of declining demand. The scientists say the facility owes millions of roubles in debts and the 500 personnel have not been paid for months. They warn that no provisions have been made by the state to safeguard the stockpiles of toxic agents at the institute when it goes into liquidation. The scientific associates of the federal state unitary enterprise State Organic Synthesis Technology Institute (GITOS) located in the settlement of Shikhany in Saratov Region, have written a letter to Russian Emergencies Minister Sergey Shoygu. They likened the current state of affairs at the enterprise to a natural disaster.

The institute, which specialized in the development of chemical weapons for 40 years and accumulated an impressive stockpile of toxic agents, owes R100m to energy companies and to its own personnel. All of the power has been shut off at the institute. The institute's wage arrears were accumulated over a period of 11 months and ultimately amounted to R17m. "This is not a current problem. We have lived with it for more than 10 years," the chemists wrote. During that time, the personnel staff was cut to one-seventh of its previous size, decreasing from 3,500 positions to 500. The remaining personnel have nowhere to go: They cannot afford to move (they do not even have money for food, and hunger strikes are no longer a rare occurrence here), and there is no demand for such highly specific specialities in the country today. The institute's conversion plans (entailing the production of scarce medicines) have been difficult to implement: Investors face almost insurmountable difficulties because the institute still has the status of a restricted facility.

Russia commenced the decline of GITOS when it signed the international Chemical Weapons Convention, reducing its demand for continued chemical and biological agent production, and most recently forcing GITOS into bankruptcy:

According to the letter's authors, the Federal Agency for Industry, which took control of the institute along with the rest of the Russian Munitions Agency's charges, feels no responsibility for the hazardous production facility. According to the chemists, the agency only cares about the profitable portion of the enterprise (the one that barely makes a living on pharmaceuticals). For most of GITOS, the reorganization will mean liquidation (some of the institute buildings are already being dismantled). No one knows how the toxic agents, whose containers have to be renewed regularly, will be stored in the absence of personnel. In addition, no one knows what will happen to the personnel. An official resettlement programme has been instituted for them, but it can only handle a few families a year. "People are losing their patience," the chemists informed Shoygu. "There have been demands for mass hunger strikes and highway traffic blockades. It has become exceptionally difficult to keep the work team within the law." The authors of the letter suggested that the failure of the Russian government to take action in this situation could lead to a man-made disaster.

This conditions sound tailor made for theft, diversion, and corruption from staff, guards, or external penetration. I find it frightening that there are so many WMD facilities in the former Soviet Union, now the Commonwealth of Independent states (CIS), that are simply falling apart along with the security charged with their protection.

If the US can profess to be concerned about areas of Africa hollowed out by AIDS that can become new al Qaeda havens, why are they not concerned with the hollowing out of key portions of the former Soviet weapons enterprise. A fraction of what we spend in Iraq could sequester and/or destroy these WMD assets. Al Qaeda has demonstrated the ability to 'hit us where we ain't' and it would be a masterstroke on their part to hold our attention in Iraq while they obtain materials from Russia to create disaster here in the US.

Chemical weapons storage methods spark protests
Gateway to Russia/BBC Monitoring/Nezavisimaya Gazeta
25 October 2004 13:07

Shikany / Volsk-18
Global Security
last data 1997

Chemical Weapons in Russia: History, Ecology, Politics
[Khimicheskoye Oruzhiye V Rossii: Istoriya, Ekologiya, Politika]
by Doctor of Chemical Sciences Lev Aleksandrovich Fedorov Moscow
Center of Ecological Policy of Russia
27 July 1994

Gordon Housworth

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