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Chemical Arms Whistle-Blower Cleared : Russia: The Moscow government sheds an irritant to U.S. relations. The scientist hints at a possible suit for damages.


MOSCOW — In a victory for free speech in Russia, charges against a scientist who blew the whistle on a top-secret chemical weapons program have been dropped, the prosecutor general's office announced Friday.

By closing the case against Vil S. Mirzayanov, charged with disclosing state secrets after writing a 1992 newspaper article about a highly potent new nerve toxin, President Boris N. Yeltsin's government has removed an irritant to its relationship with the United States, which had protested the chemist's prosecution.

Foreign Minister Andrei V. Kozyrev said last week that Yeltsin was eager to see an end to the Mirzayanov case, which had also drawn criticism from international human rights groups and raised questions about the sincerity of Russia's commitment to chemical disarmament.

In dropping the case, the prosecutor has shown that "the time has come in this country when such dangerous activities as development and manufacture of chemical weapons can be countered by legal means," Mirzayanov said.

The chemist hinted that he might sue the individuals and groups that initiated the case against him for damages incurred in 18 months of "illegal persecution," under a rarely used section of Soviet-era law.

Mirzayanov, a quiet and mild-mannered ethnic Tatar, has become a symbol for those who claim that democratic reform has yet to penetrate the old Soviet military-industrial complex, which has a very different political agenda than Yeltsin's.

He asserted that Russia and other countries have secret programs to devise new types of chemical weapons that would not be covered by existing international agreements.

"As long as work continues on new kinds of toxic substances, I will continue fighting whether I am arrested again or not," Mirzayanov said.

Both Mirzayanov, who was fired from his job at a Moscow chemical weapons laboratory after the Moscow News article was published, and his co-author, environmental chemist Lev Fyodorov, warn that Russia has not begun to address the dangerous environmental consequences of the secret Soviet chemical weapons development program.

Fyodorov, at a news conference Friday, said that about 5 million people have been exposed to poisons as a result of testing, leakage or improper dumping of Soviet chemical weapons.

"About 300 areas on half of Russia's territory have been polluted by toxins with long-lasting contaminating effects," Fyodorov said.

Further, Fyodorov alleges in an article published Friday in the Obshchaya newspaper that Gen. Anatoly Kuntsevich, the head of the Soviet chemical weapons program, was less than candid in 1987 when he presented as complete the chemical arsenal shown to international observers at the Shykhany testing ground in the Ural Mountains region.

In fact, the super-toxic V-gas that Mirzayanov's lab helped develop was loaded into aviation bombs and strategic missiles but was not on the list sent to Geneva for the Conference on Chemical Disarmament, Fyodorov wrote.

An article published a week earlier in the same newspaper alleges that Russia will be able to keep the new generation binary chemical weapon that Mirzayanov's lab worked on, despite having signed the Paris Convention last year.

That treaty, a broad ban on designing, producing, stockpiling and using chemical weapons, has been signed by 154 countries but has not yet been ratified and will not likely take effect until 1995.

"The little trick was that the components of the binary gas and the gas itself were not included in the list of banned substances," the Obshchaya article asserts. "Hence, Russia possesses the weaponry without violating the convention."

The Russian committee appointed by Yeltsin in 1992 to oversee the disposal of chemical weapons by 2005, as required by the treaty, is headed by Gen. Kuntsevich, the article noted.

The committee announced that Russia has 40,000 tons of toxic substances in stock, the article said. But it said independent experts, who were unnamed, put the tonnage at up to 10 times more than official estimates.

But at a news conference last month, U.S. Ambassador to Russia Thomas R. Pickering, while expressing dismay over the Mirzayanov prosecution, said he remains confident that international groups have the capability to monitor the Russian chemical weapons disarmament program to ensure compliance.

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