Yeltsin fires official overseeing chemical disarmament

April 08, 1994|By Los Angeles Times

MOSCOW -- Anatoly Kuntsevich, the retired army general assigned to abolish Russia's chemical and biological warfare programs but lately accused of working to prolong them, was dismissed from his post yesterday.

A one-sentence Kremlin announcement said only that President Boris N. Yeltsin fired Mr. Kuntsevich for "numerous and gross violations" of his duties as chairman of Mr. Yeltsin's Committee on Problems of Chemical and Biological Disarmament.

Mr. Yeltsin had come under criticism at home and in the West for allowing Mr. Kuntsevich, a soldier-scientist who once ran the Soviet chemical weapons-making complex, to oversee the destruction of his own empire -- tens of thousands of tons of poisonous nerve gas and mustard gas stored at seven heavily guarded sites across Russia.

The immediate reason for Mr. Kuntsevich's dismissal was unclear. But it came shortly after he lost a celebrated legal and political battle with one of his chief critics, chemist Vil S. Mirzayanov.

Dr. Mirzayanov announced in October 1992 that Russia was testing a new generation of chemical weapons after having signed agreements banning them. He was arrested and put on trial for disclosing state secrets, with Mr. Kuntsevich as a chief accuser.

Amid an outcry of protest from human rights groups and foreign governments, the charges were dropped a month ago.

London's Sunday Times echoed the chemist's assertion last month, saying that three Russian defectors had reported steps by the military, behind Mr. Yeltsin's back, to develop biological weapons of mass destruction.

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