No, this is not a Litvinenko post…or at least not primarily. Recently, the Georgian ex-KGB said it had caught a Russian smuggling highly-enriched uranium into Georgia, who was nailed in a sting operation where Georgian agents posed as representatives of an Islamist terrorist group that wanted to buy fissile material. He handed over a sample, claiming to have several kilos back at home in Vladikavkaz, and they put the handcuffs on him. Good work, fellas, you might say, and you’d be right – both the US National Nuclear Security Administration and the Russian Atomic Energy Authority analysed the stuff, and it turned out to be 90 per cent enriched.
On the downside, it turns out that this happened in November, 2005, and he’s been sentenced to eight years in a secret trial. One wonders what kind of a trial, and also why the Georgians took so long to mention it. Being a small state next to Russia with ambitions of NATO and EU membership, and an existing counter-terrorist alliance with the US, you’d think they’d trumpet it from the rooftops. They claim it was in order not to compromise continuing inquiries, which may be true or may not.
Siberian Andy asks, in the light of this, if Russia has lost control of its nuclear weapons. He thinks it’s plausible. I disagree, slightly. Russia is clearly far more stable than it was in the Yeltsin years, what with the restoration of the FSB security state, and nuclear custodianship, command, and control is obviously a priority. Perhaps more importantly, surging oil and commodity prices have made a big difference to the state budget – Putin is in a position to hold a dramatically bigger share of the market for corruption than Yeltsin ever could, and it would make sense to direct it at the academic/industrial nuclear community and the roketchiki who actually look after the things.
But there’s obviously a problem.
You might think that the West could do more to eliminate the most likely source of nuclear terrorism and proliferation on the planet – one-thousandth of the effort expended in Iraq would do the job. ScienceBlogs.com’s Corpus Callosum has the details. If the Americans aren’t going to take this more seriously, may I suggest the EU hoick it up the agenda? It’s something that’s both easier to achieve and considerably more useful than another round of sterile diplowanking about the constitutional treaty remix. And Angie Merkel’s EU presidency was meant to be all about practical, achievable goals. (See also the Armchair Generalist.
Then, so was Blair’s. It doesn’t help, by the way, whether trying to secure nuclear stockpiles or prosecute the world’s first case of nuclear terrorism, committed right in the middle of London about half a kilometre from my office, when your prime minister just ordered the prosecutors to lay off your pet arms manufacturer.