Russia reportedly hiding its efforts to make advanced poison weapons

June 23, 1994|By New York Times News Service

WASHINGTON -- Russia is concealing efforts to develop advanced chemical weapons, despite its pledge to disclose details of its poison gas program to the United States, Clinton administration officials said yesterday.

Zel,.5L That assessment illustrates the problems that Washington has in dealing with the new Russia, as Moscow has pledged to cooperate with the West, but has been dragging its feet on putting some important arms control accords into effect.

Yesterday, Russian Foreign Minister Andrei Kozyrev signed a separate East-West accord, enrolling his country in NATO's Partnership for Peace program. That agreement will lead to military cooperation between Russia and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, including joint military exercises and peacekeeping operations.

It also has important ramifications for the Senate, which is considering whether to approve a global treaty banning poison gas. Suspicions about Russia's poison gas program and Moscow's difficulties in devising an effective plan to destroy the stocks -- at 40,000 tons, the largest arsenal in the world -- have become an important issue in the debate in the Senate.

Administration officials said Washington's concerns arose in recent weeks when Russian and American officials carried out a long-planned exchange of data on their past efforts to develop, produce and stockpile chemical weapons.

Administration officials looked forward to receiving the information -- the most comprehensive accounting of the Russian chemical weapons program -- with more than usual interest: American intelligence has long concluded that the Russians have worked to develop binary chemical weapons, but Moscow has never formally acknowledged the effort. Binary weapons are an advanced munition in which two different types of chemical agents are mixed together to produce a deadly type of poison gas.

"We have long believed the Russians have been pursuing a binary weapons capability," a senior administration official said, referring to Russian efforts to develop and test the weapons.

The American concerns over Russia's chemical program were also underscored when chemist Vil Mirzayanov was charged by Russian authorities with revealing state secrets after he asserted Moscow had not only developed binary weapons but also produced an especially potent type.

Mr. Mirzayanov also asserted that the Russian military and civilian officials who invented the binary weapons planned to cite a technicality in the global agreement banning poison gas to keep working on them.

Mr. Mirzayanov was jailed in 1992 and 1993. Washington protested his arrest, and Russian authorities have since dismissed the case against him.

Some administration officials are skeptical about some of Mr. Mirzayanov's more alarming claims, but American officials believe his state ments that Russia has sought to develop binary weapons are credible.

In any event, administration officials who are reviewing the new Russian information say there is an important gap -- there is nothing about binary weapons.

"Our preliminary assessment is that the Russians have not disclosed information about what we believe to be a binary chemical weapons program," an administration official said.

One official said Washington planned to go back to the Russians and insist on a clarification of the matter. "We plan to seek urgent consultations," an official said.

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