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Backgrounder #165 on Russia

February 5, 1982

February 5, 1982 | Backgrounder on Russia

Moscow's Poison War: Mounting Evidence of Battlefield Atrocities


(Archived document, may contain errors)

165 February 5, 1982 MOSCOW'S POISON WAR OF BA TTL EFIED INTRODUCTION MOUNTING EVIDENCE ATROCITIlES From the battlefields of Laos, Kampuchea and Af ghanistan grisly evidence mounts of the systematic use of universally condemned methods of warfare. There the Soviet Union and its proxies are waging a clandestine war of chemical terror against the political and ethnic groups that have refused to be subd u ed by conventional arms. In exasperation, Soviet-backed forces have turned to a poisoned earth policy designed to drive indigenous nationalists and anti-communist guerrillas in Laos, Kampuchea and t Afghanistan from their homeland sanctuaries. The result: thou sands of men, women and children have been indiscriminately slaughtered in what could become, if unchecked, a brutal poison holocaust At first, there were-only scattered stories of chemical atrocities and they were disbelieved and generally ignored. t he reports persisted and damning proof mounted. In recent months, the evidence has become irrefutable and stands as an indictment of the Soviet Union for crimes against humanity But MYSTERIOUS DEATH CLOUDS In 1976, terror-stricken refugees began streaming out of Laos carrying news of a gruesome new addition to the arseaal of the Soviet bloc called "Yellow Rain" because small particles in the cloud made sounds like raindrops as they settled on the roofs of their huts and on the surrounding fields. The myste r ious yellow poison delivered by aerial bombing and artillery attacks, inflicted bizarre and grievous injuries on the victims, often resulting in quick, painful death. Direct exposure to the clouds caused breathing difficulties, extreme irritation of the e y es, skin nose, throat and lungs. Small, hard blisters formed over They told of a poisonous yellow cloud that they 2 exposed body surfaces. This was accompanied by coughing of blood-tinged material, choking, dizziness, multiple hemorrhaging of mucous membr anes, vomiting massive quantities of blood, the seeping of blood from eyes, ears and nose, convulsions, and death All this happened within hours, sometimes minutes Shortly after death, the skin turned black.

Villagers less exposed to the poisonous cloud re portedly took longer to develop the symptoms and had.some chance of surviv ing. Many of these, however, died after a prolonged and agonizing struggle with grotesque maladies terrible skin blistering chest pains, inflammation of the eyes, nose, throat and b reathing passages nausea, vertigo, bloody diarrhea, massive hemorrhaging throughout the body but especially the lungs, the spewing of blood from all body oriZices, neurological spasms and shock. So many different vital organs and bodily functions were dam a ged that it was difficult to determine the precise cause of the victimfs death. So ghastly was the spectacle that one expert described the Victims as Ilwalking hemorrhages1! who literally drowned in their own blood The poison clouds also killed livestock and damaged crops and vegetation. Plants contaminated by the powdery residue developed numerous scorched blotches about one millimeter in diameter scattered over the surfaces of the exposed leaves.

These distinctive marks did not resemble the after-effects of any known chdcal weapon, herbicide or plant pathogen tribal areas in central Laos. Later, tales of similar chemical attacks began trickling in from Cambodian refugees in Thailand and Afghan refugees in Pakistan. The descriptions they gave were remarka b ly similar particularly so because these refugees had very limited medical knowledge and were separated from each other by vast geographical and cultural differences. Each of these technologically unsophisticated peoples described the results of the poiso n in terms of their own experience and cultural back grounds. The Kampucheans, for instance, reported that the victims in their death throes "were jerking like fish when you take them out of the water the Afghans recounted scenes of compatriots jerking lik e dogs with broken backs persistent reports of unusual medical symptoms, coming from rural peoples with minimal contact with the outside world as well as each other, made it impossible to discount such statements as inventions of opponents of the local reg i me. Not only did the flood of refugees fleeing the affected areas provide similar accounts of appalling deaths, but the doctors treating survivors in field hospitals and relief camps thousands of miles apart recognized similar after-effects: hoarse voices , vision impair ment, weakness, lung disorders and skin lesions Initial reports of IfYellow Rain" were confined to the Hmong The similarity of these 3 THE SFURCH FOR TEE In fall 1979 SMOKING GUN the Pentagon to Thailand to verify rumors-of dispatched an ar m y medical team chemical warfare in neighboring Laos and Kampuchea. After extensive interviews with refugees who had witnessed attacks, Dr. Charles Lewis, the head of the medical team and chief of dermatology at the Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antoni o , Texas, identified three basic sets of symptoms produced by Yellow Rain 1) skin burns and burns to the eyes nose and throat; 2) spasms and convulsions; and 3) massive hemor rhaging different chemical agents were involved: a vesicant or blistering agent t h at caused the burns, a nerve agent that caused the convul sions and an unknown agent that produced the hemorrhaging Lewis concluded that at least two or pdssibly three The medical team was given a sample of the yellow substance left behind in one attack b u t experts were unable to detect any known chemical agent. They did discover, however, a chemical Itsurfactant" called lauryl sulfonate, commonly used in liquid soaps and detergents to facilitate penetration of surfaces to be cleaned. while army doctors we r e unable to identify the specific agent or agents being used, they returned to the U.S. totally convinced that chemical attacks were in fact taking place. There could be no other explanation for the numerous accounts of "Yellow Rain" or the presence of la u ryl sulfonate at the site of one attack These findings, however, evidently were not'welcome by the Carter Administration. It soft-pedaled the issue of chemical warfare in Southeast Asia apparently because it did not want to irritate the Soviets, with whom the U.S. was negotiating an arms control agreement. The State Department adopted what, in retro spect, was an overly-cautious, non-committal stance. It did not want to raise the issue without absolute proof and this was inardinately difficult to obtain. t y was extremely interested in the reports, it wished to verify them covertly to avoid alerting the Soviets that their actions had been detected. The issue may well have faded .were it not for the determined efforts of a number of individuals horrified by t t ie use of battlefield poisons: Representative Jim Leach (R-Iowa who focused congressional attention on the issue; journalist Sterling Seagrave, author of Yellow. Rain, the most complete published account of Soviet and Soviet-sponsored chemical warfare ope r ations; and Jane Hamilton-Merritt, an expert on the Hmong hill trues and author of Gas Warfare in Laos1 Reader's Digest, October 1980) and IITragic Legacy from Laos Reader's Digest, August.1981 Among the organizations which have brought the matter to publ i c attention are the Committee for a Free Afghani stan, Freedom House and the International Rescue Committee While the intelligence communi Since taking office, the Reagan Administration has proved less concerned than its predecessor about Itupsetting the Soviets.

The new team in the White House pushed hard to obtain irrefutable evidence of illegal chemical warfare activities. Solid evidence 4 was elusive because the attacks were in remote locations deep within communist-control led territo'ry and the .atta ckers seemed to be taking special precautions by using Napalm to destroy residue of the chemical attacks. Survivors understandably had not thought of gathering physical evidence of the attack while their comrades writhed nearby in their terrible terminal agony. Nor could survivors be expected to risk contamination to acquire evidence.

Some who did attempt to collect proof and transport it out of the war zone died from exposure to the evidence that they were carry ing. Others lacked the strength for the lon g trek to a friendly border after exposure to the toxic agents. Moreover, by the time that word of an attack had filtered into a friendly country, the evidence at the site of the attack typically would have been dissipated by the heavy rains in Southeast A sia, the storms and snows in Afghanistan and other natural processes. Producing a corpse was nearly impossible because of the problems with trans porting it through enemy lines and the speed of body decomposition in Southeast Asian jungles. In Afghanistan , moreover, any attempt to use the corpse as evidence would conflict with the Moslem custom of burying the deceased on the day of death TEE SMOKING GUN: TRICOTBECENE MYCOTOXINS Despite the difficulty of securing physical evidence of chemical attacks and th e arduous, time-consuming task of identify ing the mysterious chemical agent, Washington finally has solved the five-year-old riddle of illlYellow Rain Secretary of State Alexander Haig announced on September 13, 1981, that the United States has identified the critical lethal agent as a compound composed of three tricothecene mycotoxins poisonous substances produced by the fusarium fungus. These mycotoxins were found at the site of a l1YeXlow Raini1 attack in levels up to twenty, times greater than they occ u r in nature. These mycotoxins are a perfect fit for "Yellow Rain they produce all the symptoms of poisoning reported and do not produce any symptoms not reported sample of lethal powder taken from a leaf at the site of an alleged chemical attack open to c r iticism because they lacked the important negative controls of the testing process that could have provided informa tion about the tricothecene l.evels of uncontaminated vegetation outside the immediate area of the attack. However, legitimate doubts about the validity of the findings subsequently were erased in early November'when three new samples were tested. One of the new samples was water taken from the same Kampuchean The first State Department announcements were based on one Findings based 'on such e vidence were The substances were identified as Nivalenol, Deoxynivalenol, and T-2 toxin severity; while Nivalenol was a stronger hemorrhagic, Deoxynivaienol induced harsher vomiting and T-2 had greater skin irritative effects All three produced similar sy mptoms but differ in the degree of 5 village which provided the first evidence. The two other new samples came from separate chemical attack sites in Laos. Two of the three had even higher tricothecene levels than the first.

Specimens of uncontaminated background soil and vegetation from the areas confirmed that the identified mycotoxins do not occur naturally in the affected areas.

At a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on November 10, Richard Burt, Director of the State Department's Bureau of Politico-Military Affairs, testified that IIYellow Rain s" mysteri ous lethal agent had been conclusively identified We now have a smoking gun evidence. We may soon have more as, I regret to say, chemical attacks have been rep o rted in Laos and Kampuchea within the last mon th Any one who conducts his own inquiry will come-to the same conclusions we have I We now have four separate pieces of physical TEE SOVIET CONNECTION There is more than a smoking gun. There is strong evidenc e that it is Soviet-made and Soviet-supplied. Equally damning is the evidence that Soviet advisors in Southeast Asia may be involved in the use of the terror-weapon and that Soviet troops in Afghani stan undoubtedly are. I'Yellow Rain and other chemical we apons are being delivered by Soviet-made aircraft, rockets and artillery.

Members of the U.S.S.R. Chemical Corps are present in large numbers in Afghanistan and have been reported in Laos, where they may be gauging the battlefield effectiveness of chemical delivery techniques and toxic munitions.2 chemical attacks to its Vietnamese, Kampuchean and Pathet Lao allies, there are reports that the Soviets also have taken part directly in the attacks. Hmong tribesmen have seen "roundeyell pilots in the slow, low - flying AN2 aircraft Soviet biplanes used as crop-dusters in the U.S.S.R that drop the "Yellow Rain over Laos. A Vietnamese defector says that he observed two Soviet advisors fire a round of chemical m~itions at Khmer Rouge guerrillas inside Kamp~chea Alth o ugh Moscow 'seems for the most part to leave the actual Soviet technical support personnel participate actively in the operations of the chemical warfare logistical infrastructure in Laos, Vietnam and to some extent Kampuchea. Independent intelligence sou r ces confirm that a seven-member team of Soviet chemical warfare specialists visited the Laotian cities 'of Pekse and Seno to inspect chemical weapons after chemical attacks in For example, see the State Department's compendium Reports of the Use of Chemic al Weapons in Afghanistan, Laos and Kampuchea Summer 1980, p 43.

Reported in Bangkok Post article reprinted in FBIS, Daily Report,. Asia and the Pacific, September 25, 1981, p. J1. 6 1978.4 Thai military intelligence and American radio monitors have record ed and translated radio conversations of Russian officers giving instructions for shipment of chemical warhepds from a chemical munitions depot in Laos up a highway toward Phu Bia Mountain the Hmong stronghold that has been the target of repeated chemical attacks for over five years. Another radio intercept recorded an exchange,about a high-ranking Soviet general touring several chemical munitions depot while the Vietnamese have had some chemical warfare units for some two decades and are capable of conduc t ing chemical operations it is extremely doubtful if not impossible -0 that they could produce the large quantities of mycotoxins that are being dumped on villages and fields in Southeast Asia. Not only does Indochina lack large-scale biological fermentati o n facilities but the four chemical warfare depots already identified in the area are known (through radio intercepts) to be receiving chemical munitions from the Soviet Union.6 Among the world's communist states, only the Soviet Union poss'esses the indus trial facilities and chemical warfare research testing and production capabilities needed to produce large amounts of mycotoxin in a form that could be used effectively as a weapon.

The combination of tricothecene mycotoxins identified in the Yellow Rain" samples does not occur naturally in plants native to the jungles of Southeast Asia. The fusarium fungus producing these mycotoxins thrives on grain and bread exposed to cold, wet climates and exists throughout much of the U. S S R where histor- ically it has posed a serious threat to the Russian food supply.

Large-scale epidemics of what the Russians have called It staggering sickness above all, a bleeding disease) repeatedly have broken out in the Ukraine, Soviet Central Asia, the Urals and Siberia due to the contamination of the Russian grain stores by potent mycotoxins. In 1944, up to thirty percent of the population of the Orenburg district in Siberia were stricken by the poison and an estimated ten percent of the population almost thirty thousand peop le reportedly died.

Soviet scientists began studying the disease intensively in the 1930s and mycotoxins have figured prominently in Soviet scientific literature over the past fifty years. Sterling Seagrave points out that of the fifty articles on tricothe cenes in Soviet open source literature, twenty-two deal with defining the optimum conditions for biosynthesis of the compound a sign that the Soviets have more than a passing interest in obtaining large quantities of the poisons. Research projects on myco toxins are William Saf ire, "Yellow Rain Sterling Seagrave, Yellow Rain Ibid Ibid p. 192.

New York Times, December 13, 1979 New York: Evans, 198l p. 35. 7 carried out at heavily guarded Warsaw Pact institutes which previously worked on chemical and biologi cal warfare research.s With the world's most advanced research program in the field of tricothecene toxicology, the Soviets definitely possess the knowledge, personnel and facilities needed to produce the poisonous ingredients of IIYellow Rain I It now ap p ears, moreover, that the mysterious gas $hat took hundreds of lives during the final stages of the 1963-1967 Yemen Civil War may have been an early version of I'Yellow Rain only was the poison gas in Yemen never identified, but victims of the gas attacks s uffered the sane hellish symptoms as did the victims of IIYellow Rain" a decade later Not As if to admit tacitly that it has something to hide in the matter, Moscow repeatedly has tried to block formation of an impartial U.N. codssion to investigate the s i tuation in Laos Kampuchea and Afghanistan and has not cooperated with it once formed.g Moscow and its allies have denied the U.N. access to the sites of chemical attacks. Despite Soviet obstructions, a U.N. panel of experts was dispatched to Thailand in N o vember to verify reports of Communist chemical warfare activities in neigh boring Laos and Kampuchea Because the panel was not granted sufficient time or resources to fulfill this mandate, it was unable to reach a final conclusion as to whether or not che m ical weapons had been used. However, it did note that the symptoms reported in some cases Itcould suggest a possible use of some sort of chemical warfare agents In view of these tentative findings the U.N. General Assembly overrode Soviet bloc objections a nd on December 9, 1981, voted 86 to 20 (with 34 abstentions) to extend the investigations for another year. Since Pakistan recently granted the U.N. panel permission to visit Afghan refugee camps inside its borders, the U.N. panel of experts is now expect e d to address the matter of chemical operations within Afghanistan The investigation of reported chemical warfare incidents is a critical test of United Nations credibility. A November 27 1981, Washington Post editorial declared The United Nations group ha s so far not accomplished much of anything the group must be given adequate time and financial resources to accomplish a difficult task The charges being investigated, after all, go beyond whether this or that chemical has been used.

They engage nothing less than what the United Nations is all about the international rule of law. The State Department Fact Sheet, September 1981, p. 2.

During the Korean Gar, the U.S. called for the U.N. Security Council to investigate Soviet charges that the U.S. was using bacteriological weapons.

The investigations were blocked, however, when the Sovie.ts vetoed the measure in the Security Council. 8 integrity of the international system demands that they be conclusively proved or refuted CBEMICAL ATTACKS IN LAOS Reports of chemical attacks began filtering out of Laos in 1976, although the first attacks began as much as two years earlier. The State Department has documented.wel1 over one hundred separate assaults, most against the Hmong (also known as Meo) hill tribes of ce n tral Laos. As traditional foes of the lowland Pathet Lao, the Hmong sided with the French against the Viet Minh in the early 1950s and sustained an estimated 30,000 casualties aiding the U.S. fifteen years later. For this reason they dre hated by the Viet n amese and Pathet Lao who have used chemicals to attack defenseless villages inhabited by old people women, children and other non-combatants. At least half of the Hmong sgniving the gas attacks died on the trek to Thailand of exhaustion, malnutrition or P athet Lao ambushes. The few who manage to get across the Mekong River to Thailand have been described as lrwalking skeletons'carrying skeletons out of the jungle.

In addition to the "Yellow Rain the Vietname,se and the Pathet Lao have employed a lethal red colored gas and less'potent blue-green and white poisonous gas clouds. These are delivered by helicopters, fixed-wing aircraft, artillery and rockets. The attackers, it seems, are testing various combinations of chemical agents and means of delivery. Pat h et Lao soldiers, meanwhile appear to be experimenting with antidotes to the poisons. There have been reports of soldiers wearing cloth masks entering the villages shortly after gas attacks to inject the inhabitants with medicine and then take them to hosp i tals for obsenation.l0 These attacks are destroying the Eimong as a people. While Eimong in Laos numbered about 500,000 in 1960, there are now fewer than 100,000 remaining; 100,000 are in Thai refugee camps or relocated to the West, including about 40,000 in the United States. At least 15,000 to 20,000 Hmong are estimated to have died in the communist chemical onslaught.ll Many of those who successfully have fled to freedom were exposed to poison gas and continue to suffer constant headaches, painful muscl es and joints pulmonary disorders, and eye and ear problems. At least thirty five Bong adults in the U.S. have died suddenly in their sleep for no apparent reason lo See, for example, State Department Compendium, p. 68 l1 Seagrave, op. cit p. 253.

Jane .Ha milton-Herritt, "Tragic Legacy from Laos Reader's Digest, August 1981, pp. 96-97. 9 1CAL ATTACKS IN KAMPUCHEA The State Department has documented at least twenty-eight separate chemical attacks in Kampuchea. The evidence comes from interviews with Kampuch e an refugees, Vietnaplese defectors and Kampuchean nationalist resistance fighters As in Laos, the munitions used and means of delivery varied widely. Chemical attacks began much later than in Laos and increased markedly in late 1979. lfYellow Rain" weapon s have not been used as frequently as in Laos possibly because the contested terrain was too close to the Thai border and also was much more vulnerable to conven tional military attack.than the mountain sanctuaries of the Hmong in northern Laos In a typica l chemical operation in May 1981, a Vietnamese mortar attack only miles from the Thai border left scores dead and drove sixty-five Kampucheans across the border to Thai refugee hospitals where they received 'treatment. Thai army tests found traces of cyani d e in water. samples and plant life recovered from the area, while the Bangkok-based International Committee of the Red Cross confirmed that numerous people were being treated for chemical poisoning, some of whom died. l3 The Vietnamese also have launched c hemical 'attacks on the Thai side of the border In March 1980, a Vietnamese aircraft violated Thai airspace to drop toxic gas after it was fired on by Thai forces. l4 January 29, 1982, the State Department announced that the analysis of nine blood samples taken from survivors of a chemical attack in the fall.of 1981 provided additional evidence of chemical operations inside Kampuchea I On CBEMICAL ATTACKS IN AFGHANISTAN State Department files contain evidence of well over fifty instances of chemical attack s in Afghanistan U.S. officials receive a constant flow of eyewitness reports from Afghan freedom fighters, journalists and doctors who have treated survivors of chemical attacks. Although no physical evidence has yet been retrieved from the remote Afghan h interland, technical methods and human intelligence accounts, corroborated by the testimony of Afghan army defectors, leave no doubt that chemical weapons are being employed in Afghanistan. All that is missing as it was for a while in Southeast Asia is th e I1smoking gun The first accounts of communist chemical operations in Afghanistan date from late summer 1979, four months before the Soviets overtly invaded. At that time, freedom fighters attempt ing to interdict the strategic Salang highway were bombed w ith what an Afghan army officer (who later defected to the nationalist l3 l4 State Department Compendium, p. 118 Chemical Warfare in Southeast Asia Wall Street Journal, September 21 1981, p. 34 l3 "Chemical Warfare in Southeast Asia Wall Street Journal, S e ptember 21 1981, p. 34. l4 State Department Compendium, p. 118. 10 side) termed "nerve gas. If Since the Soviet invasion, chemical attacks have been reported persistently in northeastern Afghani stan, particularly in the isolated northern province of Bada k hshan At least three broad types of gases have been identified a bright yellow or green riot control agent that causes painful skin blisters; an' incapacitant dubbed Blue-X that renders its victims unconscious for up to eight hours; and a lethal agent tha t comes in several different colors and is believed similar to IIYellow Rain. II An eyewitness, who had survived a Ifdirty colored cloud yellowish brown,11 recalls in anguish that Ifour fighters were throwing up blood as if they have been drinking blood an d could not hold any more. There was also blood in their eyes, like tears, and from the nose. At first I thought it was from the concussion of the bomb, but the bomb did not make a big explosion.

And our fighters did not have any marks on them. The rest of us ran from the cloud. If In another incident, the same Afqhan reports Wur fighters died quickly. They were vomiting blood &d fouiing their clothes and began to act like crazy people falling dow n and j erking about. It The yellowish brown clouds seem to be the favored weapon for attacking freedom fighters holed up inside caves and underground tunnels. Seagrave writes that such clouds have "brought the freedom fighters writhing from their caves to dance and squirm and spew blood, and die in spasms on the bare rock reaches, like earthworms wriggling in a lethal spray of insecticide.lll7 Dutch journalist Bernd de Bruin filmed such an attack, took still photographs of a dead freedom fighter whose skin had turned black and described the experience in the magazine Niewsnet in August 19

80. An Afghan doctor now living in the United States, Dr.

Bashir Zikria, has filmed survivors of a chemical attack, including one dying a lingering death from acute gas p oisoning wells in southern and western Afghanistan and to be spreading an oily, persistent nene agent on the ground in northeastern Afghani stan. This dreadful substance clings to the feet of passing freedom fighters and becomes lethal when warmed by a ca m pfire or by body heat; it then kills in minutes. Ground observers have noted and satellite photographs have confirmed the deployment of Soviet decontamination units in forward combat areas, particularly in northeastern Afghanistan. Modern TMS-65 decontari t ination vehicles, capable of rapidly cleansing tanks and other equipment of chemical agents in the field, and AGV-3 detoxification chambers for decontaminating personnel, are used widely and maintained at high readiness. In view of the fact that the Afgha n freedom The Soviets are thought to be dumping a liquid poison into lS Ibid p. 6. l6 I7 Ibid p. 138.

Bothincidents quoted in Seagrave, op. cit p. 139.. 11 fighters pose no chemical Lreat to Le Russians and since Le Russians already have withdrawn non-esse ntial military units from Afghanistan to hold down the size of their l1lirnitedl1 presence the continued deployment of such decontamination units is a clear sign that Moscow is carrying out chemical operations SOVIET CEEMICAL WARFARE' CAPABILITIES The Sov i et Union's offensive and defensive chemical warfare capabilities, systematically developed and refined over decades are regarded as by far the world's best views chemical agents as an integral part of overall military strength and sees nuclear, chemical a n d biological weapons all as mews of mass destructiorl. Soviet doctrine teaches 'that chemical weapons are particularly well-suited for surprise attacks and for seizing military and industrial facilities without destroying them Soviet military doctrine Amo n g Moscow's forces are the 80,000 to 100,000 specialists of the Chemical Troops that are devoted to chemical warfare defense By comparison, the U.S. has 2,000 such troops In Soviet exercises, offensive chemical operations are carried out by conventional fr ont line. units, with division commanders respons ible for the planning, release and execution of the attacks.

Soviet military units have the training, equipment, doctrine and organization to conduct sustained.chemica1 operations. Each division of ground f orces maintains its own chemical defense battalion complete with decontamination facilities for personnel and equipment. Soviet armored vehicles are designed and equipped to function in contaminated zones and quickly can be decontamina ted. Rigorous chemi c al opefations training is routine in all terrain and weather conditions; chemical warfare defense techni ques, in fact, are taught in elementary school Soviet stocks of chemical munitions exceed U.S. stocks by a ratio of at l'east 4-to-1 and perhaps by as much as 10-to-

1. Some 5 to 30 percent of Soviet conGentibna1-munitions, say analysts contain chemical payloads.lg .These include such first generation agents as mustard- gas, second generation agents such as tabun soman and VR-55 nerve gas and third gene ration agents such as the tricothecene myc0toxins.1 E. M. Kallis chemical Warfare: Background and Issues Congressional Research Semice, June 1981. p. 6.

For more information on Soviet chemical warfare capabilities see: John Erickson, "The Soviet Union's G rowing Arsenal of Chemical Warfare l9 12 TREATl VIOLATIONS Chemical warfare has been prohibited on the battlefields of western nations for over fifty years. Under the terms of the 1925 Geneva Protocol, to which the Soviets are a party, asphyxiat ing, pois onous or other gases, bacteriological methods of warfare and all analogous liquids, materials and devices are banned from military use.

The 1972 Biological Warfare Convention, also signed by Moscow, obliges states never in any circumstances to develop, pro duce, stockpile or otherwise acquire or retain 1 microbial or other biological agents, or toxins.whatever their origin or method of production, of types and quantities that have no justification for prophylactic, protective or other peaceful purposes; 2) w eapons, equipment or means of delivery designed to use such agents or toxins for hostile purposes or in armed con flict. I As biologically produced chemical substances, mycotoxins fall within the prohibitions of both the 1925 Geneva Protocol which forbids the use of chemical weapons in warfare and the 1972 Biological Weapons Convention which forbids production, stockpil ing or transfer of toxin weapons. The Soviet Union stands in naked violation of these two treaties as well as of customary international l aw of armed conflict which prohibits the first use of such weapons crossed the line respected by all civilized nations 0- and even by the Nazis, who refrained from using their nerve gas stocks on battlefields during World War

11. The oison atrocities in A sia along with the 1979 Sveralovsk incidentFo raise grave doubts about the credibility of the Kremlin's signature on international treaties By cynically violating these agreements, the Soviets have CONCLUSION The Soviet Union, incapable of growing enough g rain to feed its own population, is devoting enormous resources and attention to growing a grain fungus from which it extracts deadly mycotoxins for military use. Aside from what this says about the nature of the Soviet system, this chemical warfare effor t is disturbing for what it indicates about Soviet intentions in any future conflict 2o In April 1979, an explosion at a top secret Soviet defense laboratory released a cloud of anthrax spores in the vicinity of the city of Sverdlovsk killing up to 1,000 S o viet citizens. Moscow initially dismissed reports of the accidentas "impudent slander then claimed the deaths were due to spoiled meat, an explanation that is contradicted by all of the available evidence. To this,day, the Soviets have failed to explain t h e incident satisfactorily, thereby failing to meet their obligation under, the 1972 Biological Warfare Convention, to "cooperate in solving any problems which may arise 13 Although the lethal mycotoxins are now being field-tested exclu sively on anti-Sovi e t-guerrillas and villages in remote corners of the Third world, it is not so difficult to imagine them being unleashed on NATO or other western military forces in the event of a military showdown. Given the relatively poor preparedness of NATO armed force s for chemical warfare, this is a grim prospect The Soviet Union's calculated duplicity in producing toxin weapons, transferring them to client states and secretly deploying them is also disturbing because of what it says about MOSCOW'S appraisal of the re l ative costs and benefits of breaking its obligations under international treaties. If the Soviets cheat on chemical warfare agreements in order to gain marginal advant ages in Asia, may they not also cheat on the much more critical matter of strategic arm s limitations?

Finally the poisoning of thousands of civilian noncombatants is an indictment of the values, methods, and morality of the Soviet leadership itself. The Soviets have crossed a line that even Adolf Hitler, in the darkest days of World War 11, refused to cross. The use' of chemical weapons against remote Asian villages should be triggering international outrage on legal and humanitarian grounds. If these weapons continue to be used without thundering international protest they could attain a le g itimacy that portends appalling consequences for all mankind James A. PhilllDS Policy Analyst 14 FOR FURTHER INEORMATION John Fullerton Poisoned Earth Policy Far Eastern Economic Review October 30, 1981 Jane Hamilton-MerriFt Gas Warfare in Laos Jane Hamil t on-Merritt Tragic Legacy from Laos Reader's Digest, August 1981 Sterling Seagrave, Yellow Rain (New York: Evans, 1981 U.S. Congress, House Select Committee on Intelligence Soviet Biological Reader s Digest, October. 1980 Warfare Activities June 1980 U.S. S tate Department Repo.rts of 'the Use of Chemical Weapons in Afghanistan Laos and Kampuchea Summer 1980 U.S. State Deparment Update to the Compendium on Reports of the Use of Chemical Weapons March 1981 Barry Wain Chemical Warfare in Southeast Asia Wall St reet Journal September 21, 1981 Wall Street Journal, editorials: November 3, 6, 13, and 23, and December 18 1981 Washington Post, editorials: November 11 and 27, 1981, and January 14, 1982.

About the Author

James Phillips Senior Research Fellow for Middle Eastern Affairs
Douglas and Sarah Allison Center for Foreign and National Security Policy

Related Issues: Russia