The WSJ - Forgive Russia? There's Quite a Lot to Forgive.
- Global View
Forgive Russia? There's Quite a Lot to Forgive
By George Melloan
30 September 2003
The Wall Street Journal
(Copyright (c) 2003, Dow Jones & Company, Inc.)
At their weekend Camp David tete-a-tete, George W. Bush and Russia's Vladimir Putin were all smiles as usual. Yet the Russian president gave little ground on a key issue, Russia's $800 million contract to help Iran build a nuclear power plant at Bushehr. This despite clear evidence of Iran's nuclear bomb ambitions with the discovery of weapons grade uranium there. Mr. Putin only offered to urge Iran to accept fuller United Nations weapons inspections, for whatever that might accomplish.
Maybe Mr. Putin is offering Mr. Bush more help than meets the eye on such problems as North Korean nuclear blackmail and instability in Iraq. But there is little evidence of a solid entente. National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice recommended forgiveness after Russia sided with France in trying to block regime change in Iraq. Yet in forgiving Russia, it would be unwise to forget Russian behavior in the 20th century. The world would be a much safer place were it not for the nefarious schemes the Russians hatched during the Cold War. The KGB that Mr. Putin served in his formative years was one instrument of those endeavors.
The Russians would argue that they were in a war, even though they tried to conceal their roles in the hot wars that North Korea and North Vietnam fought against the U.S. It could be claimed on their behalf that as combatants against Western capitalism, they were entitled to use whatever means offered them a chance to win. Ultimately, they of course lost and the Soviet empire collapsed under the weight of its own beastliness and the vast disparity between the promised egalitarianism and what it actually delivered, corrupt dictatorship.
It also can be said that it was morally correct and politically intelligent for the U.S. to be generous in victory and to stretch out a hand of friendship to Russia's new leaders. But that would be easier if we were not still living with some of the horrors the old Soviet Union unleashed on the world, and if today's Russians were providing more cooperation in helping to clean up the mess.
It can be assumed that one reason Mr. Putin was against the toppling of Saddam Hussein was that Saddam had been a very good customer for Russian weapons, bought with revenues from the illegal sales of Iraqi oil. Further evidence that Saddam was a madman, aside from his sadism, is the fact that he stuffed Iraq full of munitions.
Weapons of mass destruction have not yet been uncovered, but masses of conventional weapons have been found by coalition forces. Gen. John P. Abizaid, commander of U.S. forces in Iraq, testified to Congress last week that "there is more ammunition per human being in Iraq than any nation on earth." About 650,000 tons have been found so far. That's one reason securing Iraq has proved to be so difficult.
Not far away, in Palestine, the world is trying to deal with Yasser Arafat, inventor of suicide bombing as his latest contribution to terrorist mayhem. As former Romanian spy chief Ion Mihai Pacepa wrote in the Journal last week, Arafat was a KGB creation, installed by that agency as head of the Palestine Liberation Organization in 1967 to try to subvert Arab governments on behalf of the Soviets. Russian international influence helped him ultimately to gain control of the Palestinian Authority, which governs much of the West Bank and Gaza, the base from which he now runs his terrorist operations against Israel.
But by far the most dangerous threat the Soviets created was bioterror. In 1969, President Richard Nixon decided to unilaterally end the U.S. program to produce biological weapons because of the danger that these organisms might be turned loose on the world accidentally. The Soviets in 1972 signed the Toxin and Biological Weapons Convention, intended to curb such weapons. But simultaneously, they embarked on a massive program to produce them.
The result today is a vast store of deadly toxins and biological agents cached in Russia. Ken Alibek, who worked in the Russian bioweapons program before defecting to the U.S. in 1992, said in a NOVA interview that the U.S. must be "very strong" about demanding that the Russians bare their BW secrets. It is now too easy for these materials, or the Russian formulas for producing them, to get into the hands of terrorists. Mr. Alibek says Russia was, for example, a mass producer of weaponized anthrax, with four plants making material similar to that contained in the letters sent to the U.S. Senate and journalists in 2001 by a terrorist whose identity remains unknown.
The U.S. has taken a cooperative approach to reduce the Russian supply of weapons of mass destruction, including nuclear weapons, through the Nunn-Lugar program, which funds their dismantling and the reorientation of Russian scientists. But the co-creator of the program, Sen. Richard Lugar (R., Ind.) said on his return from Russia in August that the Russians were endangering the U.S. funding, which has cost American taxpayers $6.4 billion since 1994, through their evasiveness about BW activities. Sen. Lugar told Journal editors in New York recently that he was particularly concerned that pathogens similar to the smallpox virus, created in Russian laboratories, might escape the labs.
America's homeland defense authorities are very much aware of that danger as well. The National Institutes of Health have cranked up an urgent program to fund scientific research on diagnostic techniques, therapies and vaccines to deal with bioweapons. Congress sextupled the NIH budget, to $1.7 billion, for such research and development in the 2003 fiscal year.
Given the magnitude and variety of the poisons the Soviets created, however, the job of trying to develop protections is formidable. Moreover, the thought of how these materials, and the knowledge of how to make them, have spread to rogue states is dismaying. That's one reason it is imperative to discover what happened to Saddam's poisons.
As head of a still-turbulent state, Mr. Putin keeps a poker face on such matters. But by all rights he should be required to beg for the forgiveness Mr. Bush so freely offers. That would be for the sins of his fathers, and for some of his own.
� 2003 Dow Jones Reuters Business Interactive LLC (trading as Factiva). All rights reserved.
Protect your PC - Click here for McAfee.com VirusScan Online