The list of Russian nuclear scientists believed to be helping Iran develop a nuclear bomb presented to the Kremlin by Israeli prime minister Netanyahu shows why all Russian assistance to rogue regimes in the development of nuclear energy is dangerous.
The Russians have long insisted that their assistance for civilian nuclear-power projects in Iran is legitimate. Recently, it was announced that Russia would cooperate in developing a nuclear power plant in Venezuela. Russia claims that these projects are peaceful and it has the same right to seek commercial opportunities as anyone else.
This explanation, however, ignores the depth of Russian corruption. Netanyahu’s list will come as no surprise to the Kremlin because a big incentive in dealing with Iran is the opportunity for powerful individuals to enrich themselves with the help of kickbacks and illegal deals. Once contacts are established in “legitimate” nuclear energy and Russian and Iranian specialists begin traveling back and forth and officials establish contacts, myriad opportunities are created for the development and transfer of illegal weapons technology. The same situation will prevail in Russia’s dealings with Venezuela.
Russia treats the consequences of its actions with complete moral indifference. In 1992, members of Aum Shinri Kyo, the Japanese doomsday cult, held a “Russian Salvation Tour.” With the help of Oleg Lobov, the secretary of the Russian security council, the cult members, identified as “Japanese businessmen” trained at military bases near Moscow, shopped for advanced weapons and attended lectures on the circulation of gases. Sect members later carried out a sarin nerve gas attack on the Tokyo metro in which 12 persons died. At the trial of Shoko Asahara, the leader of the sect, Aum’s chief of intelligence testified that the production designs for the sarin had been delivered to Aum by Lobov in 1993 for $100,000 in cash. (Yeltsin’s response was to give Lobov a promotion.
In 2002, the U.S. tried to convince Russia to “reconsider” cooperation with Iran. It offered military and space cooperation and permission to store foreign nuclear waste in Iran. The visible economic benefits would have been the same or greater than the visible benefits derived by Russia from its trade with Iran. But the deal in question was rejected because no deal with the U.S. evaluated by Congress and scrutinized by the government accounting office can provide the payoffs for influential individuals that are possible in a totally non-transparent deal with Iran.
Israel is trying to embarrass the Russians into cracking down on illegal help for the Iranian nuclear weapons program. But the Russians are beyond embarrassment. The necessary conclusions need to be drawn by the West.
— David Satter is a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute and a visiting scholar at the Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies. His latest book is Darkness at Dawn: The Rise of the Russian Criminal State.