Russia, the Northern Caucasus, and Central Asia 1540 Reporting

October 17, 2017

Region Overview

Russia, the Northern Caucasus, and Central Asia comprise an area that unites Europe, the Near East, and Asia through trade routes and the shared legacy of the Soviet Union. Terrorism, intrastate conflict, and organized crime pose a risk to the security and integrity of nuclear, chemical, and biological facilities in Russia and Central Asia. Numerous separatist conflicts contribute to national instability, corruption, and challenges in maintaining control of borders. Chechen separatists and Al-Qaeda affiliates pose one of the most severe and persistent threats. [1] Immediately following the attacks of 11 September 2001, documents recovered from AQ safe houses in Kabul by allied forces reflected the group’s extensive research into and interest in NBC weapons. [2] [3] Chechen forces have also consistently expressed the desire to obtain, build, and utilize unconventional devices against selected targets, and have innovated by incorporating hazardous materials into their ordnance. [4] Trafficking of nuclear materials is a regional concern, and appears to be primarily supply-driven. [5] Some involved in this trade have criminal backgrounds, but many simply have access to the materials and a desire for personal financial gain. [6]

Legacy facilities from the Soviet biological weapons programs in Azerbaijan, namely the Central Reference Library in Baku, with U.S. assistance, have recently undergone upgrades to reinforce biosecurity in the area and facilitate research partnerships with the United States. [7] Many other regional facilities lack security upgrades, or did not receive them in time. Separatism in Georgia created a space for exploitation of regional nuclear security challenges. During battles with Abkhazian militia forces in the 1990s, Georgia withdrew from the city of Sukhumi before facilities containing highly enriched uranium (HEU) could be secured. Neither international authorities nor outside monitors gained access to these facilities for verification for years, and some estimate that 1-2 kg of HEU is unaccounted for as a result. [8] As a consequence of this loss, the United States collaborated with local authorities in Georgia and partners in both Russia and the United Kingdom to remove remaining stocks of HEU in an operation known as “Project Auburn Endeavor.” [9] In recent years, all states in the region have signed, and many have ratified, the Nuclear Terrorism Convention, a treaty designed to facilitate cooperation among states to prevent nuclear terrorism and prosecute any such acts. [10]

For detailed information on this region’s NBC and delivery system capabilities, see the relevant country profiles.

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WMD-Related Illicit Trafficking

Illicit nuclear materials have been interdicted on numerous occasions in Russia, the Caucasus, and Central Asia. If seizures are an accurate indication, most material on the nuclear black market has been of FSU or Eastern European origin. [11] The region’s porous borders, governments’ instability, and endemic corruption provide fertile ground for Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD) trafficking. The regional prevalence of drug trafficking likely also provides a smuggling infrastructure useful for other items. Two major smuggling routes pass from Afghanistan through Eurasia to Western Europe, the “Northern route” and the “Balkan route.” [12]

While facilitating freer trade of goods across borders, the creation of a customs union and common economic space between Belarus, Kazakhstan, and Russia has also provided fresh opportunities for criminal trafficking activities. The Deputy Head of Russia’s border service, Yevgeny Inchin, asserted that 43 percent of smuggled goods in Russia first enter through Kazakhstan. Border post removals between Belarus, Kazakhstan, and Russia allow for the smuggled and pirated goods flowing into Kazakhstan from China to disperse more easily throughout Europe via Russia. [13]

The main WMD-related material trafficking routes in the region flow north-south (from Russia through the Caucasus toward Iran); east-west (from Central Asia through the Caucasus and out of Turkey or over the Black Sea); and west-east (entering the Caucasus from Turkey and continuing to Central Asia). Trafficking takes place in all of the countries in the region, but the critical points along the primary trafficking routes are Tajikistan, Turkmenistan (particularly Caspian ports), and Georgia. [14]

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1540 Implementation

Export Controls and Related Measures

Russia has well-established and extensive strategic trade control legislation and regulation. However, there are ongoing implementation challenges stemming from a weak export control culture and underdeveloped internal compliance programs. While most states have a single body to license the export of both military and dual-use goods, at the heart of Russia’s export control system are two agencies: the Federal Service for Technical and Export Control (FSTEC) licenses the export of dual-use items; and the Federal Service on Military-Technical Cooperation (FSMTC) which authorizes transfers of other defense items. Russia’s FSTEC maintains six lists of dual-use items to be regulated.

Several states in the region, including Kazakhstan, created control lists modeled on those of the European Union and Russia. Other states, such as Georgia, adopted the established control lists of multilateral export control regimes such as the Nuclear Suppliers Group. Under the provisions of the Central Asian Nuclear-Weapon-Free Zone Treaty, member states should require IAEA Additional Protocol safeguards agreements as a condition for nuclear supply.

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Regional Cooperation and Outreach

Most countries in the region began receiving external assistance in export controls, border controls, and physical protection of materials and facilities prior to the adoption of {{glossary-term:”unsc-resolution-1540″:”UNSCR 1540″}} in 2004; this assistance has facilitated the implementation of the resolution in recent years.

Russia offers general legal and implementation assistance with export controls to countries of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) and the Eurasian Economic Community (EEC). [15] This aid began with the Agreement of 1992, and in 2004 the EEC adopted control lists and implementation measures congruent with the Agreement on a Single System for Export Control by Member States. [16] Armenia in particular has sought assistance in translating EU control list updates, training for chemical and toxicology personnel, development of a laboratory in Marzes, and assistance in laboratory accreditation. Kyrgystan has submitted several expansive requests for aid, primarily to train customs officials and scientific personnel, various requests for scientific equipment, and assistance in implementing international agreements. In 2009, Russia committed to support the development of physical protection measures for Armenia’s nuclear power reactor, and training of site personnel through the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA)’s Technical Cooperation program. [17] Azerbaijan requested assistance with detection systems, border controls, checkpoints, and other equipment in 2007. Uzbekistan requested personnel training assistance in 2004.

All states in the region have received assistance through the U.S. Export Control and Related Border Security (EXBS) Program, and other programs designed to aid states in securing borders and countering illicit trafficking. Most states have installed radiation detection equipment at a number of checkpoints, though it is unclear whether the use and maintenance of the equipment will be domestically sustainable for all of the countries in question. The five Central Asian states receive assistance from the U.S. Department of Energy to enhance their capacity to effectively implement export controls through commodity identification, end-user and licensing training, and other regional workshops. [18]

The European Union established its Border Management Programme in Central Asia (BOMCA) in 2003 with the mission of improving border management and security in Central Asia without impeding trade. The idea for the BOMCA arose from one of the Central Asia Border Security Initiative (CABSI) meetings, which serve as opportunities for Central Asia, the European Union, and Russia to meet once a year to discuss and develop border management programs and opportunities for cooperation. [19] The BOMCA accomplishes its goals through implementation of Integrated Border Management (IBM) practices and regional cooperation, including institutional development, capacity building, and personnel training. [20] Specific upcoming plans include renovating three border outposts in Tajikistan; providing equipment to several border outposts and detachments in Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan; institutional reform in Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan; improving motivation and working conditions for border crossing officers; and strengthening counter-drug capacities. [21]

The Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) has held a number of activities directly related to 1540 compliance and regional cooperation for securing NBC facilities in the region, and for combatting NBC terrorism, including meetings on counterterrorism legislation and other ways of implementing UNSCR 1540.

The Regional Counter-Terrorism Structure (RCTS) of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) is a permanent body of the SCO based in Tashkent, Uzbekistan. The RCTS facilitates many counterterrorism activities in the region, including conferences, workshops, and other best practices sharing, as well as development of joint policies and agreements on counterterrorism strategy. [22]

Several regional 1540 workshops have been devoted exclusively to the issues facing Central Asia. Others have been more general in scope, and were hosted in the Caucasus or outside of the region but attended by representatives from the region. Most of these workshops were organized or co-organized by national governments; the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime/Terrorism Prevention Branch (UNODC/TPB); the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE); the United Nations Centre for Preventive Diplomacy for Central Asia; the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO); the U.S. Department of State; and/or the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies (CNS). [23]

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1540 Implementation Challenges

The collapse of the Soviet Union ushered in today’s era of international cooperation to address the systemic challenges of WMD security. Perhaps no region in the world is more representative of both the accomplishments and difficulties in securing nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons and materials. Since 1992, the United States alone has spent more than $8 billion on security upgrades, weapons scientist employment programs, border and export controls, and weapons destruction. Unlike some more nebulous foreign assistance programs, the results across the region have been measurable and dramatic. In a ranking of the 32 countries in the world with weapons-usable nuclear materials, Kazakhstan and Russia both received the highest ratings in on-site physical protection and nuclear materials security legislation, and matched the United States in their records of UNSCR 1540 implementation. Even poor and autocratic Uzbekistan was ranked above average on control and accounting procedures and on-site physical protection. [24]

Even more indicative of progress has been the degree to which countries in the region have cooperated with each other and the global community to secure materials and prevent them from falling into the hands of terrorists. Russia, for example, is the principal supplier of portal monitoring equipment in the region, and Kazakhstan formally addressed the issues of WMD trafficking and terrorism during its 2010 Chairmanship in Office of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). All of the region’s countries remain active participants in UNSCR 1540 activities, and Russia is a member of the group of nations that have made formal offers of UNSCR 1540 implementation assistance.

Despite this progress, however, these regions face broader security challenges that will continue to work against any near-term resolution of WMD security concerns. Chief among these are the territorial and separatist disputes in the Caucasus, the active terrorist threat, ethnic conflicts, and poor governance. Threat reduction and security assistance programs under UNSCR 1540 will therefore continue to play a vital role in preventing WMD trafficking. In particular, an active program of border management assistance should be added to existing site and materials security programs. This would not only help to ensure a more integrated approach to WMD trafficking issues, but would also aid the states in question with slowing the growth of other forms of illicit trafficking and mitigating the transnational terrorism threat.

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[1] “North Caucasus militants liked to al-Qaeda – U.S. diplomat,” Interfax, 9 September 2010, in EBSCOhost.
[2] Edward Epstein, “Dozens of al Qaeda Weapons Sites Discovered: U.S. Fears Terrorists May have been Creating Biological, Chemical, and Nuclear Weapons,” The San Francisco Chronicle, 2001, p. A11.
[3] John Parachini, “Putting WMD Terrorism into Perspective,” The Washington Quarterly, Vol. 26 No. 4, 2003, pp 37-50.
[4] Adam Dolnik, “Die and Let Die: Exploring Links between Suicide Terrorism and Terrorist Use of Chemical, Biological, Radiological, and Nuclear Weapons,” Studies In Conflict & Terrorism 26, No. 1, January 2003, p. 17, in EBSCOhost Military & Government Collection.
[5] Sonia Ben Ouagrham-Gormley, “An Unrealized Nexus? WMD-related Trafficking, Terrorism, and Organized Crime in the Former Soviet Union,” Arms Control Today, Vol. 37 No. 6, July/August 2007, pp. 6-13.
[6] IAEA Illicit Trafficking Database (ITDB),
[7] Office of the Coordinator for Counterterrorism, “Country Reports on Terrorism 2011,” U.S. Department of State, 31 July 2012,
[8] John Brook Wolfsthal, Christina-Astrid Chuen, Emily Ewell Daughtry, “Nuclear Materials and Fissile Materials in the Former Soviet Union,” Nuclear Status Report, Monterey Institute of International Studies Monterey, CA & Carnegie Endowment for International Peace Washington, DC, 2001, p. 75.
[9] Anya Loukianova and Christina Hansell, “Leveraging U.S. policy for a global commitment to HEU elimination,” The Nonproliferation Review, 15, no. 2, July 2008, 166.
[10] “International Convention for the Suppression of Acts of Nuclear Terrorism,” United Nations Treaty Collection, accessed 14 June 2013,
[11] Matthew Bunn et. al, “The U.S.-Russia Joint Threat Assessment of Nuclear Terrorism,” Report for Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, Harvard Kenendy School, and Institute for U.S. and Canadian Studies, 2011.
[12] Pavel Baev et al, “The South Caucasus: a Challenge for the EU,” Chaillot Papers no. 65, Institute for Security Studies, December 2003.
[13] Richard Orange, “Kazakhstan: Russia Pressing for Clean-Up at China Border Crossing,” Eurasianet, 5 May 2011,
[14] Regional Office on Central Asia, “Illicit Drug Trends in Central Asia,” United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, April 2008.
[15] “Offers from Member States – Russian Federation,” 1540 Committee,
[16] “Offers from Member States – Russian Federation,” 1540 Committee,
[17] “Offers from Member States – Russian Federation,” 1540 Committee,
[18] Bureau of International Security and Nonproliferation (ISN), “EXBS Quarterly Newsletter,” Volume I, Issue 2, U.S. Department of State, April 2010.
[19] “The Central Asia Border Security Initiative (CABSI),” European Union Border Management Programme in Central Asia, 28 September 2012.
[20] “Border Management Programme in Central Asia (BOMCA),” European Union Border Management Programme in Central Asia, 20 June 2012,
[21] Wuria Karadaghy, “Progress Report: Phase 8,” European Union Border Management Programme in Central Asia, 17 July 2012.
[22] “RCTS,” Official Website of the SCO Summit 2012, 28 April 2012,
[23] “Event List and Related Documents,” The 1540 Committee,
[24] “NTI Nuclear Materials Security Index, Building a Framework for Assurance, Accountability, and Action,” (Washington DC: Nuclear Threat Initiative, January 2012).

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