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

6630. Military addressees handle as Specat exclusive for Service Chiefs. Geneva for Ambassador Flowerree. Subj: Soviet Response to Démarche on Sverdlovsk Incident. Ref: (A) Moscow 4974,2 (B) State 81691.3

1. (S—Entire text.)

2. The Soviets have rejected our request for consultations under the Biological Weapons Convention (BWC) in connection with the outbreak of anthrax in Sverdlovsk, relying on their earlier explanation that the outbreak was due to natural causes. The reply to our March 28 Démarche (Ref A) was given to the DCM on April 24 in the form of an oral statement by Viktor Komplektov, chief of the MFA USA Department.

3. An informal translation of the Soviet statement, which Komplektov also gave to DCM as a Non-Paper, follows:

Begin text. In connection with the renewed Démarche of the embassy of the USA in Moscow on March 28, 1980, concerning the cases of anthrax disease in March–April 1979 in the region of the city of Sverdlovsk, the Soviet side reaffirms its response to this question which was set forth to the American side on March 20, 1980.4

The Soviet side resolutely rejects as fully unsubstantiated the attempts by the American side to place under doubt the reliability of the information presented to it to the effect that the mentioned cases of anthrax disease appeared as a result of epizootics which periodically break out in these areas. The information given to the American side clearly indicates that what occurred is in no way connected with a question concerning the implementation of the Convention on the Prohibition of Bacteriological Weapons. Accordingly, there are no bases for raising the question of conducting consultations as foreseen by the mentioned Convention.

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The fact that, despite the official clarifications given to it, the American side continues to return to this question only confirms the earlier conclusion we have drawn concerning the real motives of such type of actions of the government of the USA which have nothing in common with the goals of strengthening the Convention on the Prohibition of Bacteriological Weapons. End text.

4. DCM responded that he would of course report the Soviet statement to Washington. As a preliminary reaction, however, he said that he must express regret that the Soviets had seen fit to answer our approach in this manner and to reject the possibility of consultations, which would have been a constructive way of dealing with the questions that had arisen. DCM added that he once again rejected the allegation that the motives of the US in raising the question were other than to strengthen the BWC.

5. Komplektov responded that he could only say that he regretted DCM’s expression of regret. The Soviets, he said, had given a very constructive, exhaustive and official response to the first US Démarche. Repeating that the Soviet Delegate to the Conference on Disarmament had stated as early as 1975 that the Soviet Union did not possess any of the bacteriological agents or instruments prohibited by Article 1 of the BWC, Komplektov said that this meant that there was no justification for questioning of Soviet compliance with the BWC. The Soviets had earlier explained, Komplektov continued, that the 1979 outbreak of anthrax was due to natural causes despite this, the US was still endeavoring to cast doubt on the well-grounded official Soviet position and on the good will which the Soviet side had shown in answering the US question in a constructive manner.

6. DCM stated that he would not comment further on Komplektov’s repetition of their position, but would report the conversation for Washington’s official reaction.

  1. Source: Library of Congress, Manuscript Division, Harold Brown Papers, Box 82, Brown Files—General #1, Biological Weapons. Secret; Immediate; Exdis. Sent for information to the Mission in Geneva and USNATO.
  2. Telegram 4974 from Moscow, March 28, reported that officials from the Soviet Ministry of Foreign Affairs had been unable to locate newspapers that covered the Sverdlovsk incident because “they were after all local papers and that the incident occurred a long time ago.” (National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D800156–1044)
  3. See Document 120.
  4. See Document 116.