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Russians Test Limits With Nuclear Missile Book

By Martin Nesirky


MOSCOW, November 3, 1998. (Reuters) - A dogged group of Russian academics funded by two U.S. foundations published a dazzlingly detailed book on the country's nuclear arsenal on Tuesday -- but not before deleting some secrets to avoid trouble.

After 18 months of careful checks, and somewhat slimmer than intended, Russia's Strategic Nuclear Forces nonetheless pushes to the limit what it is possible to publish and could soon even grace the bookshelves at the Defence Ministry itself.

``We made a special effort to ensure the information we published did not contain any secret details,'' Pavel Podvig, the editor and one of the seven authors, told a news conference. ``We took a long time to check everything very carefully. ``As a result we had to sacrifice something but the book you have in your hands is basically the one we set out to produce.''

The authors were particularly mindful that two men have been put on trial for spying after publishing military details. The St Petersburg trial of one, ex- navy captain Alexander Nikitin, has been suspended. A similar case in Vladivostok is pending. ``There are no analogies to the Nikitin case here,'' Podvig said, noting none of the authors had secrets security clearance.

Podvig said two U.S. charitable organisations -- the W. Alton Jones Foundation and the Ploughshares Fund -- had financed the book but not interfered in the authors' work. Another of the new book's authors, Boris Zhelezov, told Reuters the book had been completed a year and a half ago but had then gone through the difficult process of being vetted, even though all the information was gleaned from public sources. ``It tests the limits of what it is possible to publish,'' he said. Some sections, particularly on the structure of the forces and military doctrine, had been deemed too sensitive.

Podvig, who works for a Moscow-based arms control research centre, said the book was not officially censored. The authors gave manuscripts to serving and ex-officers and others to check.

Vladimir Byelous, a reserve major-general whos career was spent in nuclear forces, was one of those asked to vet the book. He said he advised the authors to delete some unspecified parts and anecdotal material that could have landed them in trouble. ``Five or six years ago it would not have been possible to publish such a book,'' he said.

Podvig said he and his fellow authors were inspired to collate the book after translating a U.S. publication earlier in the 1990s. They felt some details were outdated or inaccurate. The result is a 478-page volume with a print run of 2,000 copies. He was sure it would become a standard reference tool for ministries as well as academics and military buffs. The eight chapters and detailed appendix cover everything from the history of atomic weapons in the Soviet Union to the latest Russian Topol-M ballistic missile.

Asked whether Russian funding would have been preferable, research centre director Anatoly Dyakov said: ``If I'm honest, yes. But you know only too well the state of the Russian economy and to find money here for that is simply impossible.''

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