Former Soviet Biological Weapons Facilities in Kazakhstan: Forward

Jonathan B. Tucker
June 1999

In April 1992, Russian President Boris Yeltsin admitted that the Soviet Union and then Russia had conducted a top-secret offensive biological warfare (BW) program in violation of the 1972 Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention banning the development, production, stockpiling, and transfer of these weapons. After his admission, President Yeltsin issued an edict committing Russia to eliminate its offensive BW activities and to comply fully with the treaty. Nevertheless, a number of former Soviet microbiological research centers under the control of the Russian Ministry of Defense remain shrouded in secrecy, and the US government has assessed that “some facilities [in Russia], in addition to being engaged in legitimate activity, may be maintaining the capability to produce BW agents.”

Four major BW research, production, and testing sites also existed in the Soviet republic of Kazakhstan, which in 1991 became an independent country. In contrast to Russia, the Kazakhstani government has been remarkably open with respect to the former Soviet facilities on its territory. Thus, a study focusing on the history and status of the Kazakhstani sites offers a valuable window into the nature and scope of the Soviet BW program.

In January 1998, the Center for Nonproliferation Studies (CNS) at the Monterey Institute of International Studies commissioned three Kazakhstani experts to prepare a report on the former Soviet BW facilities in Kazakhstan, their current status, and the prospects for economic conversion and environmental remediation. The authors of this report are all superbly qualified. Gulbarshyn Bozheyeva holds a Candidate of Sciences (Ph.D. equivalent) degree in chemistry from Kazakhstan State University and graduated from the Program in International Development Policy at Duke University in the United States. She is a member of the CNS Core Group of Nonproliferation Specialists and worked at CNS as a Visiting Scholar and Research Associate. Yerlan Kunakbayev has an M.S. in biology from Moscow State University and worked at the Kazakhstan National Center for Biotechnology in Stepnogorsk. Dastan Yeleukenov is an Advisor to the Kazakhstani Minister of Foreign Affairs. He holds a Candidate of Sciences (Ph.D.) degree in physics and is a member of the CNS Core Group of Nonproliferation Specialists. He is also affiliated with the CNS branch office in Almaty.

Commissioning local Kazakhstani experts to conduct the data collection and analysis not only resulted in better quality information than if foreign analysts had done the work, but it furthered the CNS mission of building communities of nonproliferation specialists in the Newly Independent States of the former Soviet Union. The study was carried out with the cooperation of the Government of Kazakhstan and the United States Embassy in Almaty, whose assistance is much appreciated.

This report should make a significant contribution to increasing public understanding of what remains a dark chapter of Soviet history. It is also to be hoped that the Russian Federation will follow Kazakhstan’s lead by providing a full account of the offensive BW activities that took place on its territory during and after the Soviet era. Only by confronting the past will the successor states of the former Soviet Union be able to move forward with other nations, in a spirit of mutual confidence and security, to build a more stable and prosperous future.

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