Russia, Iran, and Nukes.

Are Russian nuclear scientists helping
Iranians build a nuclear warhead? For years, people have been
concerned that Russian scientists would take off and help some rogue
country, whether Iran or North Korea, develop weapons. As David
Hoffman
, author of The Dead Hand: The Untold Story of the Cold
War Arms Race and Its Dangerous Legacy
, said in an online
Washington Post chat,
officials in other countries had indeed tried to lure Russian
scientists, and on one occasion a busload of Russian scientists,
headed for North Korea, had been stopped at the airport. Today,
Russian defense experts here in Moscow assure me that is no longer the
case: The Russian scientists are not going anywhere, not as long as
they are paid and well-fed, which they apparently are.

A recent story
in The Sunday Timesmakes it seem as though in fact some of them, at least, have apparently been meeting with Iranians. Israel's prime minister
has given the Kremlin “a list of Russian scientists believed by the
Israelis to be helping Iran to develop a nuclear warhead,” and in the
past day or so the Russian press has picked up on the news. The story
is complicated.

Russian officials have pointed out that people can do what they
want, telling Interfax, a Russian news service, that “some nuclear
scientists may have volunteered to work in Iran,” as Pavel
Felgenhauer
wrote in Eurasia Daily Monitor,
“that in today’s Russia it is impossible to control the movement
of people.” That is true – up to a point. The Russian scientists whom
I have interviewed in Moscow seem acutely aware of the fact that
people in the government are close observers of their work.
Freelancing for the Iranians is possible, but it is also likely that
if Russian scientists are doing this kind of work, they may not be
doing it in secrecy.

Finally, it is possible that the Israelis were bringing up the
issue for another reason: They may have been trying to use the issue
as a way to pressure the Russians into supporting harsh sanctions
against Iran, as Felgenhauer wrote, and to test the Russian reaction
“to a possible Israeli military strike on Iranian nuclear
installations.”

--Tara McKelvey

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