Saturday, May 10, 2014

Crystal Ball
Vil Mirzayanov, PhD. Former chief of the Department of Technical Counterintelligence of GosNIIOKhT, gives his opinion on Syria’s Russian Chemical Threat
More bad news emerged from Syria in July, when its Minister of Foreign Affairs announced that the Syrian Army may use its chemical weapons (CW) against foreign intervention. He also stated that these weapons wouldn’t be used against Syrians, but are we really to believe this? As a CW scientist, who worked for 26 years in the State Scientific Research Institute of Organic Chemistry and Technology (GosNIIOKhT) – the main developer of CW in Russia – I know that these weapons of mass destruction, first and foremost, usually harm and kill ordinary people who are neither protected nor trained. Military people are supposed to be well-trained, protected and supplied with antidotes and medical personnel. The dilemma is how to protect ordinary, Syrian civilians.
In this particular case, we are not dealing with untrained terrorists, who don’t have delivery systems for launching CW, but with organised and protected, military personnel whose delivery systems were developed and produced in Russia. It’s important to remember that during Soviet times the chemical officers of the Syrian Army were trained at the Military Chemical Academy in Moscow and in other military chemical colleges within the Soviet Union. As far as I know, the Soviets delivered CW, as well as the artillery systems for launching them, to Syria at end of 1980s. These particular CW are probably already obsolete and expired, but their delivery systems should be still capable of launching chemical attacks. It is very disturbing that even during Boris Yeltsin’s time in office, Russia was co-operating with Syria in the field of CW.
Many people have probably already forgotten a scandal in 1994 connected to the Lieutenant General Anatoly Kuntsevich, assistant on CW issues to the President of Russia, who sent to Syria up to 700kg of dichloroanhydride of methylphosphonic acid (DCAMPA), a
precursor for the synthesis of nerve agents such as Sarin and VX gas. Exactly at this time, with the help of the Russian military chemical complex, the so-called Syrian Center of Environmental Protection Problems was created in Syria.
A lot of equipment, including laboratory hoods capable of working with chemical warfare agents (CA) and vacuum pumps, were sent from GosNIIOKhT via the Air Force base in Chkalovskaya, in the suburbs of Moscow. Canisters with DCAMPA were among the equipment sent to Syria. It was somewhat surprising that only 700kg of DCAMPA were sent to Syria. Then many people understood why. First, the money for this quantity of precursor was supposed to be paid directly into General Kuntsevitch’s pocket. Secondly, it was a purer product than an industrial precursor and it was designed to be used in this Syrian Center in the development and design of a new generation of CW, binary Sarin.
Binary chemical weapons are those which are synthesised in-flight to the target in a rocket or shell using two more stable and relatively unharmful chemical substances, which react with each other and produce the final, deadly chemical agent (CA). The main advantage of this type of CW is its capability to be stored for a relatively long time without major precautions or safety problems. To be more exact, the binary version of Sarin was already developed and tested in GosNIIOKhT, and it was much more effective than the US version, because Russians used a more poisonous component for their binary Sarin. The principle of chemical reaction used in this case was given in my book: Vil. S. Mirzayanov. State Secrets: An Insider’s Chronicle of the Russian Chemical Weapons Program, p. 166.
Russia was co-operating with the Syrian Center of Environmental Protection Problems at least until 2002, possibly as a cover up for broader actions. General
CBRNe Convergence 2012, 30 Oct – 2 Nov, Norfolk Waterside Marriott, VA, USA. More information on
78 CBRNe WORLD August 2012

Kuntsevich died that year in Syria, but I’m not sure that the co-operation between Russia and Syria in this area ended with his death. If Syria still has Sarin gas in its storage, as well as the factory for its production, there is only one possibility: the Russians built it and shared their technology after they stopped producing this agent in Volgograd “Khimprom” at the end of the 1970s. The contradictory explanation from the Syrian Minister of Foreign Affairs mentioned above (on July 24th, 2012) about the necessity of mixing seems absurd if related to binary weapons. Binary weapons are not designed for mixing their components on the ground.
There is another possibility, which is connected to specifics of the Russian type of CW. They were developed in such a way that containers with CA were stockpiled in remote storage areas, while shells, mines, bombs and rockets were in other separate storage, sufficiently far away. Before the planned CW attacks, all containers should be transferred to special sites where CW specialists charge the latter with the former. According to recent messages from Syria, their CW were sent somewhere to an unspecified location. I suppose they were sent exactly to the charging stations. After that they’ll be able to move them to the shooting or so-called battle positions.
All this logically brings us to a conclusion: that Russia may still be secretly and materialistically supporting the CW potential of Syria. I would not be surprised at all if, at some time in the future, Russian weapons are found in the CW arsenal of Syria. All of this raises some very serious questions about direct violations of the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC), though from the very beginning I expressed my doubts about the true commitment of Russia to this international agreement. Not surprisingly, a list of chemical agents to be controlled by CWC doesn’t include an extremely dangerous new class of nerve CA developed, tested and produced in Russia. Not surprisingly, Russia is now backing a bloody Syrian regime. I can assume that Russia is afraid that, with the fall of Assad’s regime, there is real potential for the discovery of evidence pertaining to its direct violations of the CWC.
CBRNe Convergence 2012, 30 Oct – 2 Nov, Norfolk Waterside Marriott, VA, USA. More information on
page2image34304 August 2012 CBRNe WORLD 79

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