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Alexei Yablokov

Dr. Yablokov is a well-respected expert on nuclear security and a former science advisor to President Boris Yeltsin. He testified before a subcommittee of the House National Security Committee in October, 1997 about the existence of small tactical nuclear devices manufactured for the Soviet KGB in the 1970s. He has raised concerns that some of these so-called suitcase bombs are missing .

Do "backpack" nuclear weapons exist?

Yes, small atomic charges exist. They are very small. Several dozen kilos, thirty kilos, forty kilos. I spoke with people that made them, I saw them. The American specimens can be seen on the Internet, they can be seen on photographs, they can even be seen in the movies. I have never seen Russian analogies, I have only seen American ones, but Russian ones do exist, because I spoke with people who made them, and I believe these people, these people knew what they were talking about. And there was data published about it. ... Some was published in the newspaper of a town in the south of the Urals in a little paper, and it said there that the prominent achievement is that they have manufactured a miniature atomic charge. ... No one knows how many exist ... . Lebed mentioned that there's forty-eight, or a hundred and fifty, but no one knows for certain.

How powerful are they?

Their power is about one kiloton, possibly less, but it's significant power. One kiloton is a powerful charge. You cannot destroy Moscow or London, but the Kremlin, you can destroy ... Capitol Hill can be wiped out by such a bomb. ...

Why were you raising the issue?

I talk about tactical nuclear arms, and including mini-nukes, nuclear cases, because I believe that, after the end of the cold war, the situation with nuclear arms has become much more dangerous. During the cold war, everything was under strict control, now it's not the case anymore. Now, it's becoming clear to us that tactical nuclear arms pose a great threat in people's minds. People think that, "Well, the American President and the Russian President, they have nuclear cases and only after the President presses a button in it, then something happens," but that's not the case regarding tactical nuclear arms. If you have a small nuclear mine that can be set off as a grenade launcher, it's not going to be the President setting it off. If we've got an artillery shell that can be loaded into an artillery piece, it's not going to be the President of Russia or America who's going to set this off. If we've got tactical nuclear arms and small briefcase bombs, a terrorist version of it, it's not going to be up to the President to decide where and at what time to set the bomb off. So, tactical nuclear arms exist under less control than the strategic nuclear arms. The power is much smaller of tactical ones, but the control is also much weaker. Therefore, it now poses a greater threat to society, that's why I keep talking about it.

If you have a small nuclear mine that can be set off as a grenade launcher ... its not going to be up to the [Russian] President to decide where and at what time to set the bomb off. We know that Chechnyan leaders announced that they've got two nuclear bombs. But we checked it out, and it seems that it's not the case. Palestinian terrorists also made statements to that effect, they said they've got several atomic bombs which they've purchased in the Soviet Union, but hopefully, they are also bluffing. But, in reality, the danger comes from within the country, from within Russia. We've got about one hundred organizations of a fascist nature. These fascist organizations have got many military who know where these bombs are located, who know how to use them. And if, inside the country, there's a struggle for power, and these fascists and nationalists get hold of these bombs--there's a small chance, but there is that chance, much smaller than Chechnya or Palestine--but, if that happens, that will be terrible. That's why I'm talking about this, that's why tactical nuclear arms, these small nuclear bombs, ought to be destroyed as soon as possible. ...

When this scandal with the nuclear mini-bombs erupted, and when it became clear to me that tactical nuclear arms poses a greater threat than strategic ones, I sent a letter to President Yeltsin saying that I would hate to publish all the data but I'd like to draw your attention to this and take measures. I had a call from the Kremlin, from the Defense Council ... a decision was taken ... it was deemed necessary to make a ruling which would impose more strict control over tactical nuclear arms. I was told that such a decree would be worked out, and I offered my own draft of such a decree and I sent such a draft to the President [and the Defense Council]. I don't know what the state of affairs is now, it's been three months since I submitted my draft decree. ...

Did you ever talk to General Lebed about this?

I never spoke with General Lebed about this question. I don't know what General Lebed thinks. I've only heard his statement, and I saw it printed in newspapers. When General Lebed was the Secretary of the Security Council, someone mentioned this weapon to him, and he appointed a special commission to look into the matter, and this commission was headed by one of his aides, with whom I'm acquainted. And he gave an interview and he said that the commission's been investigating, ... and they have found [these weapons], they've established that they exist, there is no doubt about the fact that they exist, they know where they are, the only question is, have they been able to locate all? They said they'd found several dozen, but it's not clear whether they've managed to locate all existing.

Why did you testify before the US Congress?

... On the request of [Representative] Weldon, whom I know for a long time, I made a statement in the Committee on National Defense, in the [House]. And we spoke on the dangers of the tactical nuclear arms. We worked out that in order to attract the attention of society to this, sometimes you have to go to America and make a statement there, or, like when Lebed spoke about these problems here, no one listened to him, but when he gave an interview to Reuters, the entire world heard about it, and our people back at home began to worry, too. So I agreed, at the request of Congressman Weldon, to travel to the United States and appear before the ... committee with a view of attracting attention to this problem. Because, the problem, as I said, is a very worrying one and concerns us all. We must know what tactical nuclear arms [are], we must understand that it must be kept under strict control, or must be certain that this control is, indeed, strict, and we must make sure that it ceases to exist, that it is destroyed.

Read Yablokov's testimony

What was the reaction in Russia to your statements in America?

When I returned from the United States, an independent newspaper ... published a dirty article, accusing me of being an American spy. They insisted that Yablokov is an American spy and that he is using ecological organizations in order to collect classified data. It's all lies. I was so indignant that I took the matter to court, filed a court case against [the paper]. And the press secretary of the Atomic Ministry, I sued him as well. And this court case will take place a few days from now.

Can you tell me about your work?

All my life I was a biologist, but, towards the end of Gorbachev's perestroika, I began to be interested in ecology. Towards the end of Gorbachev's perestroika, I believed that it's time to take part in political life. I was elected to the Soviet Parliament, I was Deputy Chairman of the Ecological Commission of Russia. But before the collapse of the Soviet Union, Boris Yeltsin offered me to become his aide in charge of ecological affairs, and for three years, I was his aide in charge of ecology. Recently, I was chairman on a commission on ecological security. Now I've finished my work in administration, and I've returned to the Science Academy. And also to the ecological politics in Russia. It's a small ecological organization, and our goal is to help the government to resolve urgent ecological problems ... .

Do you think Russian officials are misleading the public opinion?

The fact that they mislead the public is absolutely clear. When Lebed first talked about it ... he said that he tried to locate all the small atomic charges, but he was unable to do that because he was sacked. The first official reaction was that Lebed is mad, he is talking rubbish. And then I said, no, it's possible, because I spoke to people who manufactured the briefcase bomb. And then this flow was centered on me, all these lies. The federal intelligence ... , the former KGB, [announced] that this is impossible. The press secretary for the Defense Ministry said, "We know what atomic bombs are, we have never heard of briefcase bombs." The Ministry for Atomic Energy said the very same thing, that we've never heard of anything like that. But, if I'm looking at a photograph of these devices, I know they've been made, simply on the Internet. My American friends say, why don't you have a look on the Internet, there are photographs there of small, portable, American made bombs. And then, bit by bit, people began to say, of course, yes, they exist, but Yablokov is disclosing state secrets. What state secrets are we talking about? ... We insisted that we have full parity in terms of nuclear arms, that we have everything that the Americans have got; this was our official position. So, if I'm looking at a [picture] of an American weapon, I must be sure that we have an analogy. ...

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