294. Telegram From the Department of State to the Embassy in the Soviet Union1

189291. Geneva for Ambassador Flowerree. Subject: Soviet Response to U.S. Demarche on Sverdlovsk Incident.

1. S-entire text.

2. Summary: Soviet Charge Vasev came in with a reply to Ambassador Earle’s demarche of July 112 to Dobrynin requesting consultations under the BW Convention on the reported incidence of anthrax at Sverdlovsk. Vasev said he had been instructed to confirm that the Soviet side considered the allegations completely unfounded, that there had been no violation of the BW Convention and that there was consequently no basis for consultation. Ambassador Earle regretted that the Soviet reply had not addressed the factual information we had conveyed and cautioned that, since the problem would not go away, we would have to continue pursuing the matter by other means which would probably include the participation of other parties. End summary.

3. Saying that he was speaking on instructions, Vasev delivered the following “oral reply” on July 17:

[Page 862]

“In view of repeated requests of the American side the Embassy has been instructed to confirm once again that the Soviet side considers as completely unfounded allegations which try to establish some sort of connection between an outbreak of anthrax in the region of Sverdlovsk in April 1979 and the compliance by the Soviet Union with the Convention Prohibiting Bacteriological Weapons.

“The Soviet Union, as one of the initiators of and participants in the Convention, has always attached the utmost importance to the undeviating fulfillment of all its provisions which represent a major measure in the field of real disarmament and the effective prevention against making and storing types of weapons of mass destruction lethal for mankind. We have already emphasized that the fulfillment by the Soviet side of obligations established by the Convention is guaranteed by the appropriate state institutions of the USSR and that the Soviet Union does not possess bacteriological (biological) agents, toxins, weapons or equipment and means of delivery as mentioned in Article I of the Convention.

“Besides, in view of the request made by the American side concerning information on the causes of an outbreak of anthrax in the region of Sverdlovsk in April of last year the Soviet side has communicated the fact that the outbreak was a result of periodic livestock epidemics in those regions and that the cases of human illness were due to the consumption of cattle meat sold in violation of established veterinary rules. This communication was based on data from the Epidemiological Service furnished in particular by the magazine ‘Microbiology, Epidemiology, and Immunology’ (May 1980 issue).

“The stated facts show that the incident concerning anthrax in the region of Sverdlovsk is completely within the realm of veterinary and public health and does not touch upon any matter relating to the aims or observance of the Convention Banning Bacteriological Weapons as mentioned in Article V.

“It is noted with bewilderment and regret how irresponsibly some American officials make public statements obviously trying to cast a shadow over the faithful fulfillment by the Soviet Union of its treaty obligations. The obviously inspired clamor in the American mass media around this contrived problem is also noted.

“The Soviet side reaffirms that there is no basis for consultations within the context of Article V of the convention on the Banning of Bacteriological Weapons”. End text.

4. In the discussion which ensued, Ambassador Earle regretted the Soviet disregard of our demarche which had furnished detailed information underlying our concern over compliance. He noted the Soviets had not addressed themselves to the information in our paper. Referring to his conversation with Ambassador Dobrynin last Friday, Am[Page 863]bassador Earle reiterated his concern that the Soviet unresponsiveness would cast a shadow over both our bilateral relations and the multilateral arrangement created by the Convention. Noting that we had not accused the Soviets of a direct violation, he stated our purpose as seeking to raise in a diplomatic and noncontentious way a mutual problem which called for consultation under Article V of the Convention. He added that we were open to Soviet suggestions on the form such consultations might take. This was our preferred course. However, Ambassador Earle cautioned, the problem would not go away and if necessary we would be obliged to deal with it by other means which would include the involvement of other parties.

5. Vasev denied that the substance of the US demarche had been ignored. He said the Soviet side had studied our paper carefully and reviewed the situation. The Soviets did not possess any biological agents, weapons, or means of delivery. Their explanation of what happened in Sverdlovsk had been based on data furnished by medical experts. Nothing more was required since Article V did not cover matters of public health and sanitation. Vasev charged that we were pursuing psychological warfare against the Soviets and referred to recent newspaper articles based on emigre sources.

6. Ambassador Earle pointed out that we could not let the issue be resolved by a flat Soviet statement. He referred to the information we had supplied in our paper, noting that many of the points had not been based upon emigre sources. Vasev responded that the heart of the matter was simply that the Soviets had given us a complete explanation. He claimed we were indulging in rumors and psychological warfare. Ambassador Earle again stressed the applicability of Article V, quoting from it directly to make his point. He noted that as a co-depositary of the Convention we had responsibilities to insure its observance. Vasev again stressed that the Soviets found no basis for consultation under Article V. After Ambassador Earle had denied a final time Vasev’s charge that our purpose was one of propaganda, Vasev said he had nothing to add and the meeting ended.

7. Septel will contain instructions for briefing allies.3

  1. Source: Carter Library, National Security Affairs, Brzezinski Material, Country File, Box 83, USSR: 7/11–31/80. Secret; Priority; Nodis. Sent for information to Geneva, USNATO, London, Bonn, Paris, and the White House. Printed from a copy that indicates the original was received in the White House Situation Room. Drafted by Shinn; cleared by Jane E. Taylor (S/S–O) and Mark Palmer (PM/DCA); approved by Ralph Earle (ACDA). (National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, P880025–0402)
  2. The referenced démarche, telegram 182944 to multiple posts, July 12, is in the National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, P880025–0422. See also the memorandum of conversation from U.S. officials meeting with Dobrynin on Friday, July 10, during which the referenced paper was provided to Dobrynin. (See Document 290)
  3. Not found.