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and killed all 40 Chechen rebels, and they succeeded in preventing detonation of any of the explosives strapped to the female Chechen hostage-takers and emplaced on the support structure of the theater. More than 1,000 people inside and outside the theater could have been killed had not the raid of the theater succeeded.1 Although governments worldwide have been dismayed by the brutal conduct of Russian army troops during the seemingly merciless operations in Chechnya, the Russian population remains generally supportive of “whatever it takes” to track down the hit-and-run “terrorists” hiding in the North Caucasus.

It is no wonder, then, that Western governments continue to be concerned about the stability of a country that is a repository of huge stockpiles of nuclear weapons, discarded but functional chemical weapons, and microbes and viruses that could be used in biological weapons. Even if the Russian government is committed to safeguarding all dangerous weapons and materials in its inventories, both from internal dissidents and from international pirates, the high-powered weaponry in Russia remains a tempting target for rogue states and terrorist groups with access to large sums of money. Rumors have circulated for years that some nuclear weapons or nuclear materials from Soviet stockpiles were obtained by international groups hostile to Western interests in the early 1990s, when the well-financed Soviet security system gave way to a dysfunctional Russian system. Even today, Western experts remain concerned about the weaknesses in the improved Russian security systems and the ability of those systems to contain all dangerous weapons and materials.

The tens of thousands of Russian weapons scientists, engineers, and technicians with special knowledge about weapons of mass destruction pose a particular problem. Having lost most of the economic privileges accorded Soviet weaponeers, and indeed in many cases having lost their jobs, these specialists are potential “know-how” targets for shadowy groups determined to develop and build their own advanced weaponry. Even though there is no evidence that Russian specialists have been effectively recruited from abroad as channels of sensitive information or as accomplices in schemes to steal lethal materials or weapon components, they continue to be at the top of the list of potential risks to the security interests of Western nations.2

Beginning in 1991, the U.S. government adopted programs—most notably, the Cooperative Threat Reduction, or Nunn-Lugar, program—to help

1  

For details on this hostage incident, see Popova (2002).

2  

For a detailed discussion of the weapon scientists, see Schweitzer (1996).



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