BITS Research Report 97.1
November 1997

II. Domestic and International Politics

The Nuclear Legacy and Russian Politics

by Vitaly Shelest



  1. We include both military and civilian objects into the notion "nuclear legacy".
  2. The political decision was definitely taken by both executive and legislative branches of power that Russia remains a nuclear power and that it continues to develop both its nuclear weapons and its atomic power plants.

    As concerns the military nuclear potential, its creation, development and modes of use are regulated by the military doctrine of Russia, by Russia’s legislation and related international agreements.

    The civilian atomic program is based mostly on the principles of economic efficiency, availability of resources and environmental aspects.

  3. The general assessment about the nuclear weapons, shared practically by all forces involved, is that it is under adequate control.
  4. Despite well-known problems existing now in the Russian armed forces, the efficiency of Russian nuclear command and control system might be called proper and safe.

    This assessment includes the control over the warhead-producting plants, systems of warhead transportation and nuclear weapon sites (both missile and submarines).

    There exist no seriously documented cases of nuclear know-how leakage, nuclear experts migration abroad (except in accordance with international agreements) or violation of non-proliferation treaties.

    The destruction of nuclear warheads prescribed by international treaties is developing as planned, and sometimes is going on while the corresponding treaties are not ratified yet.

  5. The situation with nuclear (radioactive) wastes, on the contrary, is far from being acceptable. It concerns NW-processing, as well as its storage and transportation. Main problems may be listed as follows:
  • technology of active zone extraction from nuclear submarines is rather expensive and is not properly supported by the necessary equipment. As this extraction is obviously the most important stage of whole NW treatment process, this problem lies in the core of the existing situation of continuous accumulation of de-commissoned nuclear submarines;
  • storage of nuclear (radioactive) wastes is utterly inadequate and lack of new facilities is dramatic. The existing storage sites are full almost in all regions of Russia;
  • transportation of nuclear waste from storage sites to processing plants, performed by specially constructed trains, is the closing link in a chain of safety deficiencies, as there are less cars than needed and they are over-exploited;
  • and, at last, the processing plant (Mayak) itself is facing serious problems connected with the urgent need to modernize equipment.

There are several serious participants in nuclear issues, whose positions are of importance.

  • military: Ministry of Defence (including the Navy)
  • civilian (Federal):Ministry of Atomic Issues (Minatom),
    State committee for Atomic Supervision (Gosatomnadzor),
    State Committee for Environmental Protection,
    Federal Assembly (Parliament) of the Russian Federation:
    State Duma and Federation Council,
    Federal Security Service (FSB)
  • regional:administrations of Federal subjects and cities (governors and mayors)
  • public: Russian Academy of Sciences,
    Political parties, trade unions,
    green parties and movements,
    mass media.

As concerns nuclear issues, these forces’ interests are to a considerable extent non-contradictory. However, there exist a set of aspects where different approaches are evident and some compromises have to be found:

  • distribution of available financial resourses (MinDef/Minatom; federal agencies/regional authorities etc.);
  • mode of support, be it in monetary form or as equipment (regional authorities/specialized agencies and organizations);
  • reasonal requirements for environmental and radioactivity protection (greens/ the rest);
  • pace of ecological/radiation clean-up (greens/the rest);
  • selection of enterprises involved into NW treatment: government-owned or private respectively (local private business/ central and regional authorities);
  • choice of priorities for fund-spending in NW field: effectiveness enhancement of treatment vs infrastructure support (especially for enterprises which are dominant in the cities) — (trade unions/ local authorities, Federal agencies/ local authorities, ecologists/ the rest).

These conflicts of interests are generally solvable, but shoud be taken into account in planning any NW-activity in Russia.

  1. The legislative base for problems of nuclear legacy and, in particular, for NW problems may be described as adequate. However, a set of supporting laws should be worked out and adopted. The level of ecological requirements for radioactivity is comparable or, in some cases, more rigid than in other countries.
  2. International collaboration in this field is looked at in a positive way by virtually all participants in the field of nuclear activity. Some conditions should be fulfilled in order to make such collaboration more effective:
  • collaboration, naturally, should be based on strict fulfillment of Russian laws and requirements of national security (FSB, Duma, Minatom, MinDef);
  • foreign participation should preferably be in technological form while compatibility with the existing Russian technologies is a must (Minatom, MinDef);
  • Russian producers’ interest should be taken into account (Minatom, local authorities);
  • control over spending of foreign funds/ resources should be fixed in detail in order to provide necessary, but not excessive level of transparency, and in order to prevent circulation of statements which potentially may hinder the collaboration (FSB, MinDef, Minatom);
  • the economical side of such a collaboration should be professionally prepared and assessed and unnessesary restrictions (custom etc.) should be duly removed (Duma, local authorities).

The impact of the international community on the processes related to nuclear issues in Russia is as follows:

  • regular discussions and recommendations in international and specialized organizations (IAEA etc.), in bi-lateral negotiations and in mass media.
  • The effectiveness of such influence should neither be neglected nor overestimated: the clue notion here might be due respect to Russia's national dignity under the difficult circumstances of the present period of Russian history;
  • it seems to be feasible to constitute an international public body with professional and political authority, which might be able to provide the interested sides with exclusive data base (permanently being upgraded), as well as with expertise of projects, programs and technologies.

Such high-level international expertise and recommendations should substantially optimize the process of decision-making by national and international bodies.

Planned presently for incorporation, the ATPR NW Foundation (Russian State Duma resolution # 1462, June 4, 1977, submitted to the US Senate resolution draft) might serve as an organization able to fulfill this function.

It is vitally important that this activity is not confined only to bi-lateral efforts of the USA and Russia, but that other technologically developed countries, especially European, take an active part in this endeavor.


Russian Nuclear Politics - A view from the West

by Ulrich Albrecht


To speak about "Russian politics", let alone nuclear politics, creates presently enormous problems, and the hidden theme of this presentation is going to explain why. "Politics" in analytical approaches is defined as the process dimension of political intercourse, based on rational choice decisions by actors, in political science vernacular, the "polity". There are manifold problems in the application of such concepts to contemporary Russia.

1. In a larger research group at the Berlin Free University, called "Forschungsgebietsschwerpunkt", about societies in transformation a number of fellow researchers tries to understand the "polity" which presently is in charge of Russian politics. In addition to the common division of power between the (central) government, the parliament (the Duma), and the President, the Russian armed forces are repeatedly quoted as some sort of "semi-autonomous force", meaning as a political entity not under effective control by either other political quarter. Especially the presidency in current Russia seems to represent a climax of institutional sub-differentiation. There are - without constitutional backing - on top of a pyramid the large "Staff of aides to the President", the Presidential Council, and the Security Council. To continue to muster all bodies in charge of defence affairs (and nuclear matters), one has to add a number of committees supporting the President, such as the "Permanent inter-agency committee for scientific-technological problems of the arms industry", the "Permanent inter-agency committee for the security of defence" (?), "The Presidential Department for the arms industry" as well as - with a staff of its own - an "Expert Soviet" for armament affairs. This amorphous system remains prolific.

This multitude of institutions in charge of defense matters is reflected in the load of offices which key officials combine in themselves. Thus the deputy prime minister of Russia - on top of his main governmental responsibility - is also chairman of the (my inofficial translation) "Interministerial Commission for Military-Technical Policy", presides the institution which controls arms exports, is heading the "Interministerial Coordination Council for Military-Technological Policy" which was established in 1995, chairs the "Federal Government Committee for the Control of Privatization" (which has got to deal, alongside with less dominant branches, also with the arms industry), and is also in charge of the "Government Commission for Operative Questions", which is overseeing, among other things, conversion of the arms industries. All these are governmental responsibilities of the Russian deputy prime minister, who is also assumed to control nuclear affairs. In addition, this person acts as chairman of the "Soviet for Cadre Policy with the President."

Up to now nothing more has happened than a simple account of institutional differentialtions in the Russian central government. If a new problem is tabled, e.g. by the US government, the answer seems to be that a new Russian commitee is created. Michael Brie recently noted "that the apparatus of the President by now is at par with the dimensions of the Soviet CC apparatus and that it dominates the government." This amorphous array of institutions suggests that (a) patterns from Soviet times are perpetuated ("Soviet for cadre policy"), and (b) that actual regulation outcomes are the product of manifold interactions among these redundant institutions, which approach informal procedures.

For the nuclear field, this implies that present Russian "politics", if there is indeed a bunch of measures deserving the label, remains difficult to ascertain, if one wants to go beyond official releases.

2. The issue becomes even more blurred in a situation of fiscal crisis with heavy infights inside the heterogenuous network of institutions for scarce ressources. The paucity of the public purse tends to convert the informal array from interlocking bodies into a set of interblocking institutions, to produce a stalemate with no visible outcome in terms of specific "politics". The concept of Non-decisions, in the vein of the argument developed by P.Bachrach and M.S. Baratz about this issue, helps to analyse, beyond the outcome of manifest power relations, the latent and hidden decision processes inside the bureaucracies. Applied to present-day Russia and issues of nuclear weapons policy, the concept strongly suggests that the student of nuclear affairs is not well advised to look around for a specific "nuclear policy".

3. This finding provokes stark reflexions about statehood and government in present Russia. Officially (and according to cohorts of analysts) the enormous country is in the midst of transition, from a state A (Soviet communism) towards a state B (in normative terms, democracy). But the "zapadniki", the Western-oriented ones, who dearly believe in this Western-style future, form in Russia a minority, and there are strong currents suggesting some sort of "third road" to the Russian society, a policy path somewhat at variance with Western concepts, possibly more authoritarian.

It is easy to predict a protracted debate about the actual fate of the Russian state. The duality which dominated most of this century - a formal government paralelled by the Party machinery - might be transformed, as it appears today, by a a new duality between the "center" (as the Moscow institutions tend to be labelled in the provinces) and new centers of power emerging in the regions of the vast country. Yet the main conclusion by the political scientist is that states in such phases are internationally impotent and weak, and that they remain unlikely to respond in a meaningful manner to live-and-death matters such as the issue of nuclear weapons.

4. Nobody knows for sure whether the process of dismemberment of the former Soviet Union (and for this, the former Tsarist empire) by now has come to a halt, or whether the present Russian Federation represents a transitory entity with limited prospects of endurance. It will be rapidly understood that an evaluation of this situation entails enormous consequences for questions towards Russian politics, also for the mid-term future. Russian analysts presently stress that, after the Chechnyan war, the situation has been stabilized.

Outsiders have got to accept that the conversion of this political animal away from communist statehood remains a frail process, which progresses in non-linear modes. As "democracy" remains a normative concept which never will be accompished in full, statehood especially in societies in transition is in actual life an uncertain entity. Defense politics, in contrast to other fields of political activity, remain the arcanum of central state politics, and are hence more intensily married to the ups and downs of statecraft.

5. The main implication of the great transformation for the state is in former communist systems destatisation - the state is pushed back from spheres were it formerly exerted enormous influence. After seven decades at the center of developmental and distributive efforts, in the 1990s the Russian state came under severe attack for being the root cause for failures in precisely these areas. Neoliberal antistatism pushed by international financial institutions and influential Western countries induced further shrinking of state activities.

6. In sum, one should not expect an "actice" nuclear policy by the present Russian state. Nuclear policy, among the other dimensions of defense options, appears as a field especially exposed to foreign sensitivities and anxieties, and given the present dependence of Russia on support from the outside, nuclear policy will be more determined by principal political priorities, in contrast to defense considerations. The Duma may turn down ratification of the START II Treaty, but the reason will not be a new Russian pledge for nuclear rearmament - such a possible decision might represent some sort of blackmail against a government which tends to disregard parliament, or a reaction in kind towards the Americans who once failed to ratify the SALT II Treaty. Thus even key political steps on the nuclear agenda loose, given the present shape of Russian statecraft, in drama in the transformation process.

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