OP#18: Stories of the Soviet Anti-Plague System

September 4, 2013
Raymond A. Zilinskas, James W. Toppin, Casey W. Mahoney

Occasional Paper #18

Read the full Occasional Paper #18:
Stories of the Soviet Anti-Plague System

Bio Hazard Symbol and Russian Text

Throughout the 20th century, the USSR Ministry of Health’s 2nd Directorate headed an “anti-plague (AP) system” whose main objective was to protect the country from endemic and imported dread diseases such as plague, anthrax, and others. In addition, it had an important, two-phased role in the Soviet Union’s biological warfare (BW) program—to provide training to the BW program’s scientific workers on biosafety practices and to submit cultures of especially virulent pathogens to that program’s research and development institutions. Because the USSR considered information about endemic infectious disease, as well as BW-related activity, to be state secrets, hardly any outsiders knew about the AP system’s work and scientific accomplishments. To this day, the five Russian AP institutes remain closed to outsiders and are almost as secretive about their current activities as they were during the Soviet era.

A 12 Volume Compendium

Between 1994 and 2002, professor Moisey Iosifovich Levi spent much effort to assemble a 12-volume compendium titled Interesting Stories About the Activities and People of the Anti-Plague System of Russia and the Soviet Union (hereafter, Interesting Stories) that was published in Moscow in limited edition of 460. The volumes contain between five and 15 chapters, which vary widely as to their contents – some describe research and field investigations, others are biographies, and yet others recount interesting personal experiences and encounters. All in all, the compendium provides a unique portrayal of the work, accomplishments, lives, and experiences of AP scientists that took place mostly during 1930s – 1970s, though a few chapters address current topics such as bioterrorism.

Summaries & English Translations

Recognizing that this compendium will never be translated into English, three CNS researchers took it upon themselves to summarize in English some chapters, and translate complete chapters of particular interest. Since much of the compendium’s material is unfamiliar to the Western reader, we added “annotations” in footnotes that explain names, terms, and events found in the original text.

Additional translations:

  • 2 articles originally published in Completely Secretly (Sovershenno Sekretno)
  • An “international” newspaper founded in the USSR in 1989
  • Biographies of two persons who greatly influenced the AP system, Petr Burgasov and Igor Domaradsky
  • A conclusion of the editors’ opinions on:
    • Aspects of the former Soviet Union’s BW program that may continue in Russia’s AP system
    • Whether pathogens that reside in AP culture collections may pose BW proliferation threats
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