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January 25, 2007
Russia Clams Up Again

Georgian officials, with the cooperation of American investigators, managed to snare a man selling weapons-grade uranium last summer, a victory against black-market proliferation. The victory has been fleeting, however, as the combined task force has not been able to trace the source of the material to determine the origin of the uranium. Just as in another, more splashy case of rogue nuclear material, the problem results from Russian intransigence:

"Given the serious consequences of the detonation of an improvised nuclear explosive device, even small numbers of incidents involving HEU (highly enriched uranium) or plutonium are of very high concern," said Melissa Fleming of the U.N.'s International Atomic Energy Agency.

Details of the investigation, which also involved the FBI and Energy Department, were provided to The Associated Press by U.S. officials and Georgian Interior Minister Vano Merabishvili.

Authorities say they do not know how the man acquired the nuclear material or if his claims of access to much larger quantities were true. He and three Georgian accomplices are in Georgian custody and not cooperating with investigators.

Merabishvili said Georgian attempts to trace the nuclear material since the arrest and confirm whether the man indeed had access to larger quantities have foundered from a lack of cooperation from Russia.

Merabishvili said he was revealing the story out of frustration with Russia's response and the need to illustrate the dangers of a breakdown in security cooperation in the region.

Russia has not covered itself in glory in recent months, even apart from the increasingly autocratic domestic policies of the Vladimir Putin administration. One of its former agents wound up dead through poisoning by polonium after he started criticizing Putin. Now a sample of HEU winds up on the black market, and Russia won't cooperate.

A couple of scenarios could be in play. The first is that Putin has decided to gain hard cash by putting fissile material on the black market, which is not only insane but counterproductive. After all, Putin has his own insurgencies in the Caucasus, and the material could just as easily find its way there rather that against Putin's enemies. The second possibility is even more frightening -- which is that Russia has lost control over its nuclear materials and wants to keep the West from discovering it.

In any event, the lack of cooperation on such a danger speaks volumes about security arrangements in the former Soviet republics. It's no secret that Georgia has angered Russia in its efforts to spin out of Putin's orbit, and if this intransigence is Putin's idea of retribution, then we can pretty much kiss nuclear security in that region good-bye. Apparently, rogue proliferation matters less to Putin than petty squabbles and influence peddling. Such a ruler is no partner for peace and economic stability, and Putin seems intent on proving that in other areas as well, such as energy transport and arms dealings with Iran.

We used to excuse the exceptions to good relations from Russia and Putin. It's difficult to see anything else these days.

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at January 25, 2007 6:05 AM

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» Has Russia lost control of its nuclear weapons? from Siberian Light
Captain’s Quarters wonders what’s behind the recent spate of nuclear ‘incidents’ that can be traced back to Russia in one way or another: A couple of scenarios could be in play. The first is that Putin has decided to gain hard c... [Read More]

Tracked on January 27, 2007 9:33 AM


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