Washington, 25 November 1998 (RFE/RL) -- A senior U.S. senator said he is pleased with the progress Russia and Ukraine are making on getting rid of nuclear, biological and chemical weapons.
Senator Richard Lugar (R-Indiana) spoke to reporters yesterday after a nine-day trip to Russia and Ukraine. He and a team of American experts reviewed work on the destruction and dismantling of the former Soviet arsenals.
Lugar is a senior member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and co-author of the Nunn-Lugar program that provides about $.4 billion a year for dismantling weapons of mass destruction in the former Soviet Union.
To date, Lugar said 339 ballistic missiles, 286 ballistic missile launchers, 37 bombers, 96 submarine missile launchers and 30 submarine-launch ballistic missiles in the former USSR have been destroyed. He said Russia has also sealed 191 nuclear test tunnels and deactivated 4,838 warheads that were aimed at the U.S.
Lugar said his team visited several important sites during the trip. The first stop was the former Soviet air base of Priluki in Ukraine. Priluki is the home of a fleet of Blackjack bombers and 615 air launched cruise missiles. The Blackjack is similar to the American B-1 bomber and, according to Ukrainian sources, capable of delivering 24 nuclear-armed cruise missiles. Lugar said those nuclear warheads were deactivated in 1996. Lugar said he also met with employees of Raytheon, the American firm dismantling the bombers and cruise missiles, while in Priluki.
The team later visited a storage facility under construction in Mayak, Russia, located more than 1,300 kilometers and two time zones east of Moscow in western Siberia. He said when the facility is completed, it will be the world's safest and most secure spot for storing various delicate materials removed from nuclear weapons.
Lugar said other stops included visits to the city of Ozersk, one of the ten closed nuclear cities in Russia whose location the Soviet Union never formally acknowledged; Severodvinsk, one of three strategic missile submarine dismantlement sites located near the Arctic Circle; and the SevMash submarine base.
Lugar said the trip to SevMash was particularly important because during the Cold War, the base gained prominence as the birthplace and home of the production and maintenance facilities for the Soviet Typhoon missile submarines. Lugar said the Typhoon was "one of the most feared weapons of the Cold War."
According to Lugar, his trip to SevMash marks the first trip to this top-secret base by a senior American delegation. He also said that while there, Russian officials informed him that Moscow has finally approved plans to begin a cooperative dismantlement of the first Typhoon nuclear submarine in 1999.
Lugar explained, "This is a major step forward. When these submarines are dismantled, 1,200 nuclear weapons will be removed from operational systems that could be used against the U.S... as we speak, the program is reviewing destruction plans to eliminate the world's largest submarines and the workhorses of the Soviet and Russian strategic missile submarine force."
Lugar said another important issue that needs to be quickly resolved is the current and "desperate conditions" of many Russian and Ukrainian nuclear scientists and engineers. He said the U.S., Russia and Ukraine need to focus even more attention on easing the conditions for the scientists in order to prevent a critical "brain drain" to rogue nations that would use the expertise to construct weapons of mass destruction.
Said Lugar, "We must remain vigilant. These are not the random foot soldiers about which we have heard countless tales of derangement and desperation. The men and women of the nuclear, chemical and biological institutes don't carry automatic weapons in their hands, they possess the knowledge and ability to develop weapons that could kill millions."
Lugar said he realizes Russian institutions are experiencing "severe strain," primarily economic. He added that for the moment, Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov has the majority support in the Russian Duma for prompt ratification of the START II Treaty and accelerated reductions of nuclear warhead levels in a START III Treaty. But he acknowledged that Russia's ability to meet expensive requirements of the weapons destruction schedule of START II could be "very difficult" given current Russian budget conditions.
Lugar was decidedly optimistic about his visit and the progress Russia has made on nuclear disarmament.
He concluded, "This is a very important time in Russia. The Nunn-Lugar program has, over the last seven years, established a bridge of communication and cooperation for mutual U.S.-Russian advantage. Both countries understand the awesome consequences of failure to cooperate. I believe we have strengthened this important relationship with our visits."