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Russia: Adamov's Secrets, Nuclear And Otherwise

Switzerland's 3 October decision to extradite former Russian Atomic Energy Minister Yevgenii Adamov to the United States was not unexpected. However, it has unleashed a firestorm in Russian political circles and the media, threatening to become a major issue in U.S.-Russian relations for some time to come.

Adamov, who served as atomic energy minister from 1998 until 2001, is accused by the United States of embezzling some $9 million in assistance that was intended to boost security at Russian nuclear facilities. He also stands indicted in Russia on charges of abuse of office and embezzlement. But from the beginning, the case has had numerous and ominous political overtones.

Adamov's arrest on a U.S. warrant in Berne, Switzerland, on 2 May 2005 came on the heels of the 24 February Bratislava summit between Russian President Vladimir Putin and U.S. President George W. Bush. In the run-up to that summit, a document was leaked that indicated that U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Russian Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov had reached a landmark agreement granting Washington access to some of Russia's most sensitive nuclear facilities in order to ensure their security.

Russian Nuclear Pride

The leak outraged Russian nationalists, including many in the Duma, who forced the government to backtrack on the talks and, in the end, the document was not included on the Bratislava agenda. When Adamov was arrested just days later, the same conservatives were quick to condemn the move as an effort to pressure Moscow into granting U.S. access to the country's nuclear secrets. Despite the end of the Cold War, many in Russia continue to cling jealously to the country's military and civilian nuclear programs as indications of Russia's great-power status.

Since Adamov's arrest, Russian officials and observers have offered contradictory testimony as to whether he possesses any state secrets. Defense Minister Ivanov has said repeatedly that Adamov presents no threat to national security. He repeated this assertion on 3 October, according to ITAR-TASS. However, current Atomic Energy Agency Director Aleksandr Rumyantsev told Ekho Moskvy that "to be atomic energy minister means to know secrets." Former Atomic Energy Minister Viktor Mikhailov (who served from 1992-98) told ITAR-TASS on 3 October that "Adamov still knows state secrets.... As a minister, he knew the plans of our leading research centers, including the federal nuclear centers in Sarov and Snezhinsk."

Some analysts have speculated that Adamov poses another security threat, however. In a tacit admission of how deeply corruption has penetrated the highly sensitive nuclear sector, analyst Ivan Yartsev wrote for on 2 October that gaining access to Adamov would "help foreign secret services to acquire the loyalty of those Russian officials who worked with the former minister and about whom he possesses compromising information." "Most likely, if the extradition takes place, it would be logical from the perspective of state security to carry out a series of dismissals of such officials," Yartsev wrote.

Although it seems unlikely that Adamov knows details of scientific information, it is likely that he has policy information and other general knowledge that Moscow would be reluctant to risk revealing to the United States. In particular, Adamov was privy to policy discussions and planning relating to Russia's nuclear cooperation with Iran and North Korea. He also was instrumental in drafting controversial Russian plans to import spent nuclear fuel for reprocessing and storage, a plan that the Russian government argues could bring in as much as $20 billion in revenues over 12 years. Duma Deputy Speaker Vladimir Zhirinovskii (Liberal Democratic Party of Russia) told RBK-TV on 3 October that "the goal of Adamov's extradition might be to get extra information about all agreements between Russia and Iran because all such agreements were reached when Adamov was minister."

Near Abroad

Many in Russia have long suspected that U.S. objections to Moscow's cooperation with Iran is more about keeping Russia out of the lucrative nuclear-technology market than it is about the danger of weapons proliferation. The fact that U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Arms Control Stephen Rademaker chose 3 October to state that "no government should permit new nuclear transfers to Iran and all ongoing nuclear projects should be frozen" did not pass unnoticed in Russia. RIA-Novosti editorialized the same day that Russia's cooperation with Tehran "gives jobs to tens of thousands of people and hundreds of enterprises."

Finally, the Adamov case has drawn the attention of those in the Kremlin who have been working full-time for months now to forestall a "colored revolution" in Russia, which is preparing for national legislative elections in 2007 and a presidential contest in 2008. These officials have noted Washington's glowing praise of the revolutions in Georgia, Ukraine, and Kyrgyzstan, and, more ominously, U.S. statements in favor of more democratic political processes in countries like Belarus, Uzbekistan, and Azerbaijan. "The Russian authorities have long spoken of a likely effort by the West, and the United States in particular, to organize the next 'colored revolution' in Moscow to change the political regime and, possibly, to break up the country," Yartsev wrote.

In a commentary on on 27 May, Yartsev wrote that Adamov could play a role similar to the one allegedly played by former Ukrainian Prime Minister Pavlo Lazarenko, who was convicted by a U.S. court of embezzlement and money laundering in June 2004. According to Yartsev, Lazarenko's "information played a significant role in preparing the Orange Revolution."

As far-fetched as such speculation seems on a literal level, such theories definitely play well in Russia's political climate today and can be used to justify any number of domestic political developments, such as cracking down on foreign funding of nongovernmental organizations or discrediting opposition parties and figures with Western credentials. The Adamov case will likely have increasingly serious international and domestic consequences for some time to come.

See also:

Environmentalists Urge Putin To Drop Nuclear Plans

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