Russian TV warns of threat posed by old arsenals, lax security at facilities
Source: Centre TV, Moscow, in Russian 1700 gmt 26 Jan 03
The federal government is not paying due attention to security at key infrastructure facilities and is not concerned about the thousands of tonnes of old ammunition stockpiled across the country, regional leaders and experts interviewed by Andrey Karaulov have said in his programme "Moment of Truth". The following is an excerpt from the programme shown on Russian Centre TV on 26 January, with subheadings inserted editorially:
[Presenter] These days money is flowing from the regions to the federal centre, to Moscow. The country's budget is increasing as we speak. Plus multimillion returns on oil sales at a very good price for four years in a row. [Prime Minister] Mikhail Kasyanov's colleagues in G8 must envy his luck...
But who could explain to me why it is that money being gathered in the regions does not get back to those facilities that - in the assessment of regional heads, who are generally very cautious these days and will often refrain from saying anything since such has been life's lesson to them - present a frightful danger for the whole of Russia.
Unattended stockpiles of old ammunition
[Valeriy Serdyukov, Leningrad Region governor] What happens next is absolutely unclear. The weaponry of the naval base in Krasnaya Gorka, the Baltic Fleet's military base, presents a frightful risk. There are stockpiles of weapons going as far back as World War I. The issue of their disposal is not being examined at all. For how much longer will we be able to store them. There is also the Gatchina stockpile. And what about the toxic waste in Krasnyy Bor? It is already filled to the brim. It is a frightful threat.
[Presenter] How many kilometres is it from Gatchina to St Petersburg?
[Serdyukov] Only 40 km.
[Presenter] And there are tens of thousands [of pieces of ammunition stored] in the suburbs of Gatchina?
[Serdyukov] Yes. And when there have been forest fires, there was a real threat. Last summer we had to do a great deal of work to prevent forest fires from reaching that area. Unfortunately, neither the Defence Ministry nor the other relevant organizations, Rosvooruzheniye [state enterprise for arms export and import] and others, is doing any active work in that respect. I cannot understand why not.
[Presenter] So there are tens of tonnes of projectiles left since World War I. They will soon be 100 years old. Who can say for sure what state they are in today? And they are just 40 km from St Petersburg. Let me reiterate it: there are tens of tonnes of projectiles piled up there. And nobody, nobody is talking about it.
[Presenter, asking Serdyukov a question] Haven't those forest fires taught anybody anything? And suppose, I don't want to prophesy ill but, suppose a fire reaches such a stockpile?
[Serdyukov] Everybody is aware of this issue.
[Presenter] And nothing is being done?
[Serdyukov] Practically nothing.
[Vladimir Yakovlev, St Petersburg governor] They are like environmental time bombs. They are bombs that will one day go off in the form of biological gases or other products. We have no idea of what there may be. It is hardly a good idea to have stockpiles of old ammunition close to the tourist attractions of Pushkin and Pavlovsk. We have agreed with the military on this matter. As for Kronstadt, the decision has also been taken. The ammunition is being removed very slowly because the military do not have enough funds, but it is being removed. Which is the most important thing for us. We are reaching these agreements and decisions.
[Serdyukov] They say that an additional layer of protection has been erected at Krasnaya Gorka. But all this is fiction. Everybody knows that. [Russian Emergencies Minister Sergey] Shoygu knows that. Not only oral requests, but written appeals have been made to all the relevant agencies.
[Presenter] So everybody understands that there may be a horrible explosion 40 km from St Petersburg. And all that with the city's tercentenary approaching.
[Serdyukov] Everybody understands it. They are stepping up security, strengthening other things but unfortunately these are not the measures that need to be taken.
[Igor Spasskiy, academician, chief designer of the Rubin design bureau] What is the danger? How can it be calculated? There are chemical weapons that were disposed of in the Baltic Sea. These chemical, poisonous substances can have an unpredictable effect on the human gene system...
[Presenter] How many chemical weapons are there in the Baltic Sea?
[Spasskiy] A lot. They have been there since the war [presumably, World War II]. There are British, German and our own chemical weapons there. There are scientists who say: there is nothing to worry about, nothing is going to happen. But I am afraid that these are chemists' views and from the point of view of their chemical effect, these weapons have indeed lost their power. But those people who study biological organisms and so on are very much concerned. This is the area that I would focus more attention on. Maybe, these substances should be buried there, where they are lying. But they are scattered everywhere...
[Lev Fedorov, PhD in Chemistry, president of the foundation For Chemical Security] They found sections of the Baltic Sea 100 m. deep and dumped artillery projectiles and barrels with various poisonous substances there - about 25,000 t all in all. All that came straight from Germany.
[Serdyukov] There are projectiles and sunken ships. There are lots of them, in Ladoga [lake], in the Finnish Gulf and in the Baltic Sea. We have more than once proposed setting up companies that would start removing all this stuff. But somehow it doesn't happen. Special licences are needed. Also there is an issue of the risks involved. Experts are needed. But the issue remains: all this stuff has to be removed.
[Yakovlev] For how many more years can it remain there? In principle, it can stay there forever until somebody suddenly bumps into it.
[Presenter] And what then?
[Yakovlev] And then a disaster may happen. That is why several years ago while speaking at the UN on environmental issues, I proposed setting up the so-called alternative military service to be used for environmental purposes. Because many young men do not want to do military service for various reasons, training them in these environmental skills could be a way out. They could be trained to trawl for these projectiles. Because sooner or later this stuff will have to be removed. Maybe not this generation, but the next generation will have to deal with these parcels from the past.
[Sergey Katanandov, chairman of the Council of Ministers of the Republic of Karelia] There are huge stockpiles and not only in Karelia. It is obvious that the amount of funds available is limited.
[Presenter] But if armed terrorists managed to get to Moscow and to the Dubrovka theatre [reference to hostage crisis in October 2002], one can only imagine what might happen in remote woods.
Poor security at infrastructure facilities
[Katanandov] What is causing concern is not so much the old arsenals but water supply facilities, heat and power plants. We are particularly concerned about the Belomor-Baltiyskiy channel [canal linking the White Sea to the Baltic Sea]. A lot has been said about it already. And some people are even being sarcastic on the matter. But people tend to forget that it is a unique hydraulic engineering facility which was built in 18 months and requires strict security. It is a huge reservoir of water and if anything happens there, it will be a major disaster. All our attempts to reinforce armed guards at the facility - which is the responsibility of the Russian Transport Ministry - and to put everything in order there have so far been in vain.
[Katanandov] We are being told that it is expensive. There is not enough money. But it is one area on which no expense should be spared because it is a truly serious matter.
[Presenter] Wait a minute. Do you mean to say that should anything happen - God forbid me from prophesying ill - it would be a horrible disaster. Is that so?
[Katanandov] Yes, it is a serious issue.
[Presenter] And there are people in Moscow who still do not understand it? [over still picture of Russian Transport Minister Sergey Frank]
[Katanandov] Apparently not, because our correspondence - as you know the issue of terrorism is supervised by very serious agencies in this country - with the administration of the Belomor-Baltiyskiy channel has not brought any results. They are located in Karelia but are supervised directly from Moscow. To be brutally honest, the channel is very poorly guarded.
[Presenter] You mean it is guarded by elderly pensioners armed with [obsolete] Berdan rifles?
[Katanandov] Yes. I can tell you a story which may seem funny to you but it is very instructive. The thing is that a schoolgirl living near the channel has appealed to the president to consider the problem.
[Presenter] A schoolgirl?
[Katanandov] Yes. One may think that this appeal was orchestrated. But it was not.
[Presenter] And has the letter reached its destination?
[Katanandov] Yes, it has. And there has been reaction to it.
[Presenter] From the president? There has been reaction to a schoolgirl's letter about the fate of the Belomor-Baltiyskiy channel?
[Katanandov] Yes, there has been a response.
[Presenter] Anya Samokhina, 13, is writing a letter to the Kremlin telling the president that at night the lock near their village located on the channel is guarded by her grandfather, Vasiliy Starotonovich, alone. Anya is telling the president that her grandfather is a very good man but he will soon be 70 and has very poor eyesight. In addition, he is hard of hearing. Anya is afraid for him. She is afraid that should Chechen terrorists come to the channel, he will hardly be able to overpower them on his own. And the Russian president immediately - that was four days ago - sends the letter to [Transport] Minister [Sergey] Frank with a resolution. It is the Transport Ministry that is in charge of the channel. Whereas the leadership of several Russian special services have for several months been ignoring all the written appeals to them received from the head of the republic [of Karelia]. What sort of country do we live in?...
[Video shows stockpiles of old ammunition, relevant archive footage, the channel.]