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Russia: Scary Signs Make CIA Wary

Washington, 29 January 1998 (RFE/RL) -- The director of the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) says that as long as there is even the slightest doubt about the future political stability of Russia, the nuclear arsenal which exists there must remain a preoccupation for America's intelligence agencies.

George Tenet made the comment during testimony to the U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee Wednesday. The committee held its annual hearing on current and projected threats to U.S. national security.

Tenet says that despite the fact that Russia and the U.S. are now cooperating in ways that were "unimaginable in Soviet time," America must be mindful of the fact that Russia remains a major nuclear power.

Tenet says he sees "hopeful signs" that democracy and a free-market economy have taken root in Russia. But he adds, whether Russia "succeeds as a stable democracy, reverts to its expansionist impulses of the past, or degenerates into instability" remains an open question.

Tenet says he is concerned that the communist-dominated Duma too often deadlocks and refuses to act while crime and corruption threatens to "undermine confidence in political and economic reform."

Tenet praises Russia for implementing many economic reforms and acknowledges that the country has achieved a measure of economic stability. But he adds that long-term steady growth is still dependent on other reforms, primarily ensuring that economic activities are governed by the rule of law.

The plight of the Russian military is another source of concern to the U.S., says Tenet. He says the Russian military is "suffering" from the social and economic crisis in the country. Tenet says it will be a "particular challenge" for Moscow to find money to pay the retirement costs of more than 250,000 redundant military officers.

Tenet says he is also dismayed that while Russia continues to seek close cooperation with the U.S. in matters of mutual concern, it has become "increasingly strident" in opposing U.S. efforts to cultivate closer ties with countries of the former Soviet Union.

Tenet says: "Moscow continues to place a high priority on keeping others from gaining undue influence in the newly-independent states, especially in the energy-rich Caucuses of Central Asia."

But of greater concern to the U.S., says Tenet, are proliferation issues centering on the Russia-Iran relationship. Tenet says Iran has successfully obtained technology and material from Russian companies that have brought it closer to developing medium-range missiles capable of hitting Saudi Arabia and Israel.

Tenet says that even though Russia has laws that control the export of missile-related technologies, the system has "not worked well." However, he adds that he is encouraged by "positive steps" recently undertaken by the Russian government.

Just last week Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin issued a decree prohibiting Russian firms from exporting items that could be used for developing weapons of mass destruction or their delivery systems -- even if the items are not specifically listed on the export control list.

Says Tenet: "If enforced, this could be an important step in keeping Iran from getting the technology it needs to build missiles with much longer ranges."

Yet Tenet adds that it is much too soon to be optimistic about the new decree. "Russian action is what matters, and therefore, monitoring Russian proliferation behavior will have to be a very high priority for some time to come."

Tenet also testified that he was worried about developments in international heroin trafficking, saying that drug dealers are relying heavily on routes that take them through Russia and other countries in the former Soviet Union.

Tenet says that heroin traffickers are "exploiting weak enforcement institutions" in the region and expanding traditional heroin smuggling routes, especially those in the Central Asia nations.