270. Telegram From the Embassy in the Soviet Union to the Department of State1

4496. Subj: Soviet Reply to Demarche on Sverdlovsk BW Incident. Refs: (A) Moscow 4225, (B) State 68654.2

1. (S-entire text.)

2. In replying to our demarche on the Sverdlovsk incident, the Foreign Ministry confirmed that an outbreak of anthrax occurred in Sverdlovsk in March/April 1979 but said this was due to natural causes, denied that it had anything to do with the Biological Weapons Convention and charged that the raising of the issue by the United States creates the impression that someone is trying to cast a shadow on the efficacy of the Biological Weapons Convention. The reply was given to the Acting DCM in the form of an oral statement this morning (March 20) by Viktor Komplektov, Chief of the Foreign Ministry USA Department. Because Komplektov insisted that the appointment take place before 12 noon, we imagine the Soviets may be planning shortly to release the text of the statement to the press.

3. Following is the Embassy’s informal translation of the oral statement, a copy of which was given us as a non-paper.

Begin text:

In connection with the representation of the Embassy of the USA in Moscow of 17 March 1980, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the USSR is instructed to state the following.

The Soviet side firmly rejects the efforts of the Government of the USA to place in doubt the conscientious fulfillment by the Soviet Union of the provisions of the Convention on the Prohibition of Bacteriological Weapons. With regard to this Convention, just as with other international agreements in which the Soviet Union participates, the Soviet side strictly fulfills all provisions of the documents under which it has accepted the relevant obligations.

In accordance with the legislation and practice of the Soviet Union, the observance of the provisions of the Convention on the Prohibition of the Development, Production and Stockpiling of Bacteriological (Biological) and Toxin Weapons and on their Destruction, ratified by [Page 778] order of the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet of the USSR of 11 February 1975, is guaranteed by the appropriate state institutes of the USSR. In a statement made by the representative of the USSR in the committee on disarmament on 24 June 1975, it was pointed out that the Soviet Union does not have any of the bacteriological (biological) agents and toxins, weapons, equipment and means of delivery indicated in Article 1 of the Convention.3

As for the incident referred to by the American side which occurred in April 1979 in the area of Sverdlovsk, there did in fact occur in this area in March–April 1979 an ordinary outbreak, arising from natural causes, of anthrax among animals and cases of illness of people from the intestinal form of this infection, connected with the use as food of the meat of cattle which was sold without observance of the rules established for veterinary supervision. Appropriate warnings in connection with this were given in the press. No quarantine of any kind was established.

That it occurred, however, has no relationship to the question of observance by the Soviet Union of the Convention on the Prohibition of Bacteriological Weapons, and therefore there is absolutely no basis for putting forward the question which has been raised by the American side.

The impression is automatically created that someone would like under a clearly invented pretext to cast a shadow on the efficacy of the Convention on the Prohibition of Bacteriological Weapons—one of the most important agreements in the arms control area—and to do this at the very moment when the Review Conference on the operation of this Convention is taking place in Geneva.4 Such actions by the Government of the US are clearly not dictated by concern for the strengthening of valid international agreements on disarmament. On the contrary, they are only capable of weakening these agreements, of complicating the situation, of hampering the efforts of states in the matter of limiting the arms race. The Soviet side condemns such actions as directly contradicting the interests of preserving and strengthening peace. End text.

4. A/DCM stated that the Embassy would transmit the Soviet Union’s response immediately to Washington. He took note of the fact that the response contained some information on the incident in Sverdlovsk, but added that it was not possible to accept the allegations as to the motives of the US in raising this matter. Given the growing evi[Page 779]dence on the incident, it clearly had to be raised in order to be dealt with before the BWC Review Conference meeting in Geneva ended. He emphasized that it was not the intent of the USA to “cast a shadow” over the BW Convention or any other disarmament treaty.

5. In seeing A/DCM to the door, Komplektov commented that, only 24 hours after the Ambassador had met with first Deputy Foreign Minister Korniyenko on March 17,5 everything he had said at that meeting had appeared in the press and that this happens “every time”. That circumstance, he said, only served to bear out the validity of the views expressed in the final paragraph of his statement.

  1. Source: Carter Library, National Security Affairs, Brzezinski Material, Country File, Box 83, USSR: 3/20–31/80. Secret; Niact Immediate; Nodis. Sent with a request that the Department repeat to Geneva. Printed from a copy that indicates the original was received in the White House Situation Room.
  2. See Documents 267 and 269.
  3. Article I of the Biological Weapons Convention outlines the prohibitions detailed in the BWC. While specific substances are not banned, their purposes can be if they would prove to be harmful. Biological weapons that are prophylactic, protective, or peaceful are permitted by the BWC.
  4. The First Review of the Biological Weapons Convention met March 3–21.
  5. See Document 269.