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Russia: Aid To Former Soviet Weapons Experts Is Working

Washington, 21 November 1996 (RFE/RL) - An international effort to help former Soviet weapons experts earn a living in less deadlier pursuits is paying off and should be continued, a U.S. report says.

In a report published in Washington on Wednesday, the U.S. government-funded National Research Council said the International Science and Technology Center is making a "positive impact" on international security.

"It offers meaningful nonweapons-related work to scientists and engineers in the former Soviet Union who might otherwise continue to design weapons or, worse, sell their experience and expertise abroad," the report said.

The International Science and Technology Center was established by the European Community, Japan and the United States following the collapse of the Soviet Union in December 1991. The creation of the center was prompted by the fear that the tens of thousands of state-subsidized scientists, designers and engineers who had worked on Soviet weapons systems "would flee to countries eager to acquire nuclear, biological and chemical weapons," expertise.

The Western nations and Japan signed an accord with the Russian Federation in 1992 to set up the science and technology center in Moscow.

"Estimates vary on the number of Soviet scientists, engineers and technicians who were involved in research on weapons of mass destruction," the report said. "In Russia alone, 10,000 to 20,000 scientists, engineers and technicians formed the core of research on chemical, biological and nuclear weapons." The report added that perhaps as many as 50,000 more experts had information on weapons that terrorists and rogue governments might want.

The United States, Canada, Sweden and Ukraine signed a similar agreement late in 1993 to establish the Science and Technology Center in Ukraine. This center only began its operations in 1995. The U.S. report says it is still to early to assess the impact of the center in Ukraine. However, it says the program there is showing signs of success and should be continued.

In Russia, the International Center has received almost $140 million to date. The U.S. report says the money has paid for 236 projects not only in Russia, but in Armenia, Belarus, Georgia, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan. The report says these projects have provided work and salaries for 12,000 scientists in the five former Soviet republics.

"All of these activities are directed at the primary goal of diminishing the risk of weapons scientists and engineers emigrating from the former Soviet Union to rogue states and terrorist groups eager to acquire their knowledge and experience," the report says.

The report did not say how many scientists have emigrated from former Soviet republics. However, it says the primary objective of the International Center was not to prevent emigration.

"Minimizing the incentives for weapons scientists to engage in activities that result in proliferation of their knowledge and expertise is a realistic goal," the report says.

It concludes that the Moscow center has made significant progress toward finding new work for former Soviet scientists, and, that it has also made a great contribution to the renewal of science and engineering in the former Soviet Union.