Chechens warned against nuclear blackmail

Russia’s former nuclear minister warned Chechen rebels that if they engage in nuclear terrorism, Moscow would retaliate with such force that the breakaway region would disappear from the map,

according to an interview published on Wednesday.

“If the Chechen militants attempt to seize a nuclear power plant or dare to spread radioactive materials to pollute land and air, that would be equivalent to the declaration of nuclear war against Russia,” former Nuclear Minister Viktor Mikhailov said in an

interview published in the daily Izvestia.

“The response to the Chechens will be very cruel.”

Mikhailov was commenting on speculation voiced by top Chechen envoy Akhmed Zakayev that rebels might try to strike a Russian nuclear power plant or other nuclear facilities.

Rebels have used radioactive threats before to sow fear. In 1995, during the first Chechen war, a container with cesium 137 was found buried in a Moscow park, allegedly planted by rebel warlord Shamil Basayev. The radiation level was too low to pose any danger to passers-by, but the discovery sparked widespread concern about nuclear terrorism.

Basayev also threatened in 1995 to contaminate a large area of Russia by blowing up a container of radioactive material.
The rebel leader has continued to evade Russian capture, and last month he claimed sole responsibility for the October hostage-taking attack on a Moscow theater, which claimed 129 lives. Basayev warned in a website statement that future attacks would be even more destructive.

Mikhailov told Izvestia that Russia’s civilian and military nuclear facilities are reliably protected, but he added that such attacks remain a “theoretical” possibility.

“Rebels must realise that their entire people will bear responsibility for their actions,” said Mikhailov. “If the Chechens engage in nuclear blackmail, there will be no Chechnya left in the

world.”

Russian President Vladimir Putin has also warned that if terrorists “use means comparable to weapons of mass destruction,” Russia would respond in kind.

Mikhailov said that some nuclear materials that have been stolen in Russia over the last decade, such as uranium-235 or uranium-238 used as fuel components at nuclear power plants, could have fallen into rebel hands. “They could have bought it from some Russians,

who would sell anything including the Motherland to earn some money,” Mikhailov said.

Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, there have been numerous thefts of nuclear materials in Russia as government controls have weakened. Officials insist, however, that only small amounts of weapons and reactor-grade nuclear materials have disappeared from the country’s atomic facilities. - Sapa-AP

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