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

12712. Subj: Demarche on Sverdlovsk Incident. Ref: State 209746.2

1. (S-entire text.)

2. On August 11 Charge raised Sverdlovsk incident with First Deputy Foreign Minister Korniyenko, presenting oral statement as provided in reftel. (Demarches on MBFR and Iran reported septels.)3

3. Korniyenko’s response followed familiar lines. He said the Soviet side could agree that the “fuss” being made over the outbreak of anthrax could damage future joint efforts at controlling the arms race, but asserted that the fuss, including the public distribution of information with vague accusations that the USSR had violated the Biological Weapons Convention, had been organized by the American side over an imaginary incident. The whole affair was thus the responsibility of the U.S.

4. Korniyenko said that the Soviet position on what had occurred at Sverdlovsk had been expressed many times. Unfortunately, he said, outbreaks of anthrax do occur almost every year in the Sverdlovsk region; last year’s outbreak was reported in the local press, which prescribed precautionary measures for the population to prevent infection from contaminated animals. But the anthrax outbreaks which occur in Sverdlovsk have no relation to the Biological Weapons Convention. Ambassador Dobrynin had already explained this, Korniyenko added.

5. Korniyenko said the U.S. request for consultations under Article V of the BW Convention aroused suspicion on the Soviet side. After all, either side could always dream up pretexts for invoking the Convention. Why the U.S. was doing so at the present time, Korniyenko said, was not hard to guess: it was the result of an irresponsible attitude on the U.S. side toward international agreements. Korniyenko went on to note that the BW Convention was the first agreement that had fully banned not only the use of a type of mass destruction weapon, but also [Page 871] its possession. The sides should be striving to protect the Convention, he said, but instead the U.S. was discrediting it by raising Sverdlovsk. This understandably caused indignation on the Soviet side. He wondered how the U.S. would have reacted if the Soviet Union had invoked the BW Convention and demanded information on the outbreak of Legionnaire’s disease in the U.S.

6. Continuing, Korniyenko noted that the U.S. had proposed consultations of the sort conducted under SALT. But in SALT, he said, there was a special commission for discussing questions which might arise (implying, without saying it, that there is no such body under the BW Convention). Moreover, the U.S. underlined its desire for confidentiality, yet at the same time was spreading information around the world about the USSR’s suspected violation of the BW Convention. The two sides began to discuss the issue, yet immediately the American side began to spread stories that it was not convinced by the USSR’s statements.

7. Summing up, Korniyenko said that, from the Soviet perspective, it was clear that the U.S. had chosen to create a fuss over Sverdlovsk as yet another way of increasing tensions and another attempt to damage US-Soviet relations.

8. In response, Charge said he would attempt once more, briefly, to clarify the U.S. position, since Korniyenko’s remarks indicated continued serious misunderstanding of the U.S. position. It was precisely the great concern that was bound to arise and did arise in the U.S., in Congress and elsewhere, when the reports became known about the event in Sverdlovsk, that made it essential for the sides, if they wished to “protect” the BW Convention, to deal with the questions that had arisen concerning Sverdlovsk. Charge stressed that U.S. had not accused the Soviet Union of a violation. The U.S. was simply asking for information pursuant to Article V of the BW Convention, and felt the best way to exchange information would be through bilateral meetings of experts. The U.S. cannot accept the explanations provided thus far by the Soviet side, because the information available to us points to inhalation anthrax rather than a form of the disease transmitted by contaminated meat. If the Soviet Union, as Korniyenko suggested, raised Legionnaire’s disease with the U.S., the U.S. would have invited Soviet experts to consult with U.S. disease control specialists.

9. Korniyenko replied that there would not have arisen any public concern if the U.S. Government had not taken the initiative after the first of the year to activate the issue in the press and in Congress. After all, the subject was not unknown prior to the first of the year; the local newspapers in Sverdlovsk had published warnings to the population at the time. It seemed to Moscow that the American authorities had decided in January to worsen the atmosphere between the U.S. and USSR [Page 872] by using the Sverdlovsk incident. Charge said this was definitely not the U.S. objective, regardless of how the chronology of events may appear. While it is regrettable that the Sverdlovsk question had leaked to the press before it was resolved through confidential bilateral discussions, this simply illustrates that problems of this nature must be dealt with forthrightly and cannot be swept under the rug, because it is a fact of life that information on matters of such great import will sooner or later become public in the U.S.

10. Department repeat to Geneva and elsewhere as desired.

  1. Source: Carter Library, National Security Affairs, Brzezinski Material, Country File, Box 83, USSR: 8/80. Secret; Immediate; Nodis. Printed from a copy that indicates the original was received in the White House Situation Room.
  2. Telegram 209746 to Moscow, outlined Garrison’s talking points for his meeting with Korniyenko regarding the Sverdlovsk incident. (National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, P880025–0412)
  3. The démarche on MBFR was not found. The démarche on Iran, telegram 12360 to Moscow, August 5, is in the National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D800374–0420.