Old Saint Basil's Cathedral in MoscowJohnson's Russia List title and scenes of Saint Petersburg
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Los Angeles Times
November 5, 2001
Nuke-Toting Gangs in Russia Pose a Threat to the West
David Satter is a senior fellow of the Hudson Institute, a visiting scholar at the Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies and the author of Age of Delirium: The Decline and Fall of the Soviet Union

Political cooperation is only one of the things that the West needs from Russia. We also need a measure of order within Russia itself.

Without a drive against Russia's internal lawlessness, Russia could align itself with the West completely and still be a base area for Islamic terrorism.

This is because Russia has huge amounts of poorly guarded weapons of mass destruction and powerful organized crime groups that have the ability to obtain and sell them. Russia has enough plutonium and uranium to make 33,000 nuclear weapons stored at 50 scientific centers guarded by soldiers who are frequently underpaid.

It also has vast quantities of nuclear waste that could be used to make crude bombs capable of contaminating large areas.

It has the world's largest inventory of chemical weapons--40,000 tons--and a wide variety of bacterial cultures, including drug-resistant anthrax, smallpox and plague.

On Vosrozhdeniye Island, a former Soviet open-air biological weapons testing site 600 miles from Afghanistan, there are enough anthrax spores buried in metal drums a few feet below the surface to kill the world's population several times over.

Russian and Chechen criminal organizations are involved in the transport and marketing of heroin from Afghanistan.

And according to the Russian newspaper Izvestia, Osama bin Laden used these criminal organizations to launder money for the Taliban, with his cut being from $133 million to $1 billion a year.

In the 1995 sarin nerve gas attack on the Tokyo subway by the Japanese doomsday sect Aum Shinrikyo, the production design for the manufacture of sarin was given to the sect by Oleg I. Lobov, Russia's former first deputy prime minister, for $100,000, according to testimony at the trial of those accused in the attack.

In recent weeks, there have been reports in the Russian press that Bin Laden has bought several suitcase nuclear bombs from Russia that have not been used only because they are protected by Soviet codes requiring a signal from Moscow before they can be detonated.

Under these circumstances, it is as important for Russia to crack down on organized crime as it is for the Muslim world and the West to eliminate any network capable of facilitating terror.

Russia's job would seem to be relatively easy.

The activities of Russia's organized crime groups, which have extensive business holdings, have been documented not only by law enforcement but also by their commercial competitors.

The Russian Internal Affairs Ministry has been in a position to crack down for years; it needed only a signal from political authorities.

This didn't come from former President Boris N. Yeltsin, or so far from President Vladimir V. Putin.

In 1997, FBI Director Louis J. Freeh told the House International Relations Committee that there was a serious possibility that Russian criminal gangs could get nuclear weapons and that Russian organized crime constituted a direct threat to U.S. national security.

Now, with the entire world under threat from Islamic extremists, the United States needs to ask our new ally Putin to begin to eradicate this danger, even at the expense of the system of robber capitalism that has grown up in the past decade.

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