2 Russian papers investigated after new disclosures on chemical arms

June 11, 1993|By Will Englund | Will Englund,Moscow Bureau

MOSCOW -- Security Ministry police are moving against a second scientist who has made public disclosures about Russia's chemical weapons program. This week they demanded notes, tapes and other materials from two Moscow newspapers that had interviewed the scientist, their editors said yesterday.

Both newspapers said, however, that they provided nothing except previously published articles.

The target of the investigation is Vladimir Uglev, who until two years ago was the primary researcher at a top- secret laboratory trying to develop powerful new nerve gases.

In a series of interviews in February, Dr. Uglev said the laboratory, in the Volga River town of Shikhani, had succeeded in its mission.

The nerve gas, nicknamed Novichok, or newcomer, is 5 to 10 times more potent than VX, its American counterpart, he said.

But most troubling, in Dr. Uglev's view, was that the components of Novichok are not explicitly covered by a treaty banning chemical weapons production that Russia signed in January.

The top-secret nerve-gas program was first brought to public attention in September by a former researcher at an affiliated lab in Moscow, Vil Mirzayanov.

Dr. Mirzayanov was arrested in October and charged with divulging a state secret. He is awaiting trial.

Dr. Uglev, 50, said he decided to come forward with details of the Shikhani lab's involvement to show his support for Dr. Mirzayanov. As a member of his local city council he enjoys legal immunity. But after he went public his former boss at the laboratory asked the council to strip him of his immunity so he could face prosecution.

Wednesday, a group including a colonel in the security police -- successors to the Soviet KGB -- appeared at the offices of a periodical called New Times. He identified himself as Mikhail Zhestkov, from the Saratov district, which includes Shikhani.

He said that an investigation of Dr. Uglev had begun and he demanded any tapes, notes or original documents pertaining to the scientist, as well as a copy of New Times' February interview with him, according to Alexander Pumpyanski, the editor.

Later in the day, Colonel Zhestkov appeared at the offices of Moscow News, and made a similar demand, Leonard Nikishin, the science editor, said yesterday.

Editors at both newspapers furnished the investigator with copies of their published articles, but told him they had no other materials.

"There were no secrets in our publication," said Mr. Nikishin. "Our position is, there can be no state secrets regarding chemical weapons after the signing of the Paris convention" under which dTC Russia pledged to abolish such weapons.

"We think the KGB visit was entirely groundless."

"We published an interview which discloses secret activities of the Chemistry Ministry," said Mr. Pumpyanski, "but these

activities are contrary to the stated policies of the government," which renounced chemical weapons work when it signed the treaty.

"It's quite natural that these ministries should fight back, and use methods that have been known to us for a long time."

The Security Ministry police demanded similar materials from both publications after the arrest of Dr. Mirzayanov. In addition, a correspondent for The Sun, which has reported the chemical weapons disclosures, was interrogated by the Security Ministry April 8.

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