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Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)

Chemical and Biological Weapons

Many of the Soviet-era chemical and biological weapon programs date from an 17 August 1967 decree of the CPSU Central Committee and the USSR Council of Ministers, which directed preparations for chemical-biological war. This marked the beginnings of the secret "F" programs, which included the "Flute," "Fouette," and "Fagot" biological weapon programs, as well as the the "Flask," "Ferment," and "Factor" efforts. The "Flora" program was established by a 5 January 1973 decree of the CPSU Central Committee and the USSR Council of Ministers.

During the Soviet era, the mission of the Chemical Troops was to defend the armed forces against the effects of "weapons of mass destruction"-- nuclear, biological, and chemical (NBC) weapons. With 50,000 soldiers in 1989, the Chemical Troops constituted the world's largest NBC defense force. The Chemical Troops would perform NBC reconnaissance; mark contaminated areas; and decontaminate personnel, weapons, and terrain during wartime. They operated 30,000 armored combat vehicles equipped for NBC reconnaissance and truck-mounted systems equipped to spray decontaminating solutions on the surface areas of tanks, combat vehicles, and aircraft.

The Chemical Troops demonstrated the use of helicopters for NBC defense during the large-scale radiation cleanup operation after the Chernobyl' nuclear reactor accident in April 1986. In 1989 the Chemical Troops did not operate offensive delivery systems. Yet the strength of Soviet chemical defense provided an offensive potential by enhancing the ability of Soviet forces to fight on contaminated battlefields. Thus, supported by the Chemical Troops, Soviet forces were better prepared than any other in the world for NBC operations.

The military-biological complex of the former Union of Soviet Socialist Republics was a true Frankenstein's Monster, with a powerful scientific potential -- for good and for ill. The twin biological weapons (BWs) programs run by the 'civilian' Biopreparat and by the Ministry of Defence (MoD) produced public health benefits despite the original intent, out of those programmes. There was potential for both crop and livestock destruction and for enhanced agricultural methods growing out of the parallel Soviet program under the management of the Special Directorate of the Ministry of Agriculture.

In 1992 President Boris Yeltsin's abolished all research and development on offensive BWs. There was the possibility that expertise, technologies and materials from the former Soviet BWs program leaked out of Russia, because the living standards in Russia remained low and the overwhelming majority of scientists had a miserable existence.

Moscow declared the worlds largest stockpile of chemical agents: 40,000 metric tons of chemical agent, mostly weaponized, including artillery, aerial bombs, rockets, and missile warheads. U.S. estimates of the Russian stockpile generally are larger. The inventory includes a wide variety of nerve and blister agents in weapons and stored in bulk. Some Russian chemical weapons incorporate agent mixtures, while others have added thickening agents to increase the time of contamination on the target.

According to official Russian statements, all former Soviet chemical weapons were stored at seven locations in Russia, mostly in the Volga/Ural section of the country. An extensive consolidation process of chemical warfare material, both from sites within Russia and from non-Russian locations, was carried out during the late 1980s and early 1990s.

Russian officials did not deny research continued in the 1990s but asserted that it was for the purpose of developing defenses against chemical weapons, a purpose that is not banned by the CWC. Many of the components for new binary agents developed by the former Soviet Union were not on the CWCs schedules of chemicals and have legitimate civil applications, clouding their association with chemical weapons use. However, under the CWC, all chemical weapons are banned, whether or not they are on the CWC schedules.

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Page last modified: 12-05-2014 20:27:27 ZULU