General Davidov (nuclear disarmament), 1993

General Davidov interview, Moscow (1993?)
Interviewer — Metta Spencer, and another (‘U’ [probably Lev Semeiko].

Davidov: … He doesn’t understand this problem, in the same way as Gorbachev. You may have read this article in “Izvestiya” last summer.

Metta Spencer (MS): You mean it was after the coup?

Davidov: No, before the coup. He attempted to save the system but not the Soviet Union. This is the mistake of Gorbachev and Shakhnazarov. They wanted to save the communist system, the socialist system.

MS: Can you put your finger on how he was misunderstanding (?). What did he say that was not clear?

Davidov: Shakhnazarov? As far I understand last summer neither Gorbachev, nor Shakhnazarov, nor people surrounding them really understood what was going on in the Soviet Union. They were trying to save the communist system but not our state, the Soviet Union. This is the main problem. They didn’t see that the process of disintegration was developing quickly in the Soviet Union. We should have started finding ways to adjust to that process as quickly as possible.

… you may read in the forthcoming issue of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists. And the title is “… of the Soviet Union on nonprolifiration”. So now we are trying to arrange joint research with other … institutions. The research concerning nonprolifiration.

MS: I’m not a specialist, and I don’t think…

Davidov: … No, here in the Soviet Union, well, in Russia actually. Let’s look at the problem of brain drain in Russia. I mean atomic physicists. It is absolutely clear that it’s necessary to assess the situation of the atomic physicists, people who make weapons in the field (?) of nonproliferation. Moreover, I think that it’s necessary to introduce a special course for those people who produce nuclear weapons. They should be allowed to work at plants producing nuclear weapons only after they are granted a certificate about the completion of such a course concerning problems of nonproliferation. I think it is absolutely necessary.

MS: Very good idea.

Davidov: I’m now trying to arrange this within the framework of the new American-Russian Centre For … … . Maybe you know about it (?).

MS: Well I don’t know whether this is what I know about or not…

MS: So he says that he wants to bring people…, people who run these power (?) plants are willing to have French people come in and they will work directly with the French people without going through the hierarchy because they said it would be stopped, blocked at the top. I don’t know whether that’s true but …

Davidov: I think the main argument of the bureaucracy would be that the West wants to win the competition.

Now there’s a discussion going on in our newspapers. The majority of our experts say that it’s not necessary to upgrade safety of our plants. And you should understand why they object the idea. That is because the majority of our reactors as I understand are of dual purpose – energy generation and military use. That’s the problem. And as far I understand, I don’t know this exactly, but I think that is true, in Chernobyl when the catastrophe happened the military were experimenting. Maybe I’m not right.

This is “… … … on nuclear nonproliferation”. And this is very important.

MS: Is this a spare copy?

Davidov: No, I’ve received it only today.

MS: OK. So it’s “… Bibliography of Soviet and CIF Studies on Nuclear Nonprolifiration”. From the CIF Nonprolifiration Project, the Director is William C.Porter, Monterray (?) Institute of International Studies, 425 Van Duran (?) Street, Monterray, California 93940, ph.: 408/647-4193, fax: 408/647-4199. …

MS: About a year ago, it was maybe in the middle of the winter, there was something that surprised me, and disturbed me, and I told some of my friends about it. And they said, “No, there’s nothing in that.” Well, that was an article that was published in the “Manchester Guardian”, some time during the winter. And it was an article about, an interview or something with the guy named Boris Gorbachev.

Davidov: Boris?

MS: Well, I’m pretty sure of my fact on this. He was the person in charge of monitoring or taking care of the safety of Soviet nuclear missiles. And he says that all (?) things have to be watched very carefully. He says they are very unstable and very dangerous. And this absolutely contradicts what I’d thought I knew. I thought that nuclear weapons have to have tritium introduced all the time or they just go dead. But what he says is that there’s a conventional component in the thing which has to be taken care of frequently or it becomes extremely dangerous. This conventional thing can explode and send all nuclear staff all over the place and cause terrible damage, just like a reactor going bad. And he says that he was very scared because it has not been reported to the top level of the government that these things were dangerous because the people who were responsible for maintaining them are leaving or there’s not enough money for their salaries and that there are no manuals available to train new people. So nobody can just walk in, even if you know one kind of weapon you can’t go and take care of another kind of weapon. And there are so many different kinds, so the staff is needed to keep these things safe, never mind destroying them, just to keep them safe. But this is not being done. And when I mentioned this to my friends they said, “No, that isn’t true.” Tell me what you know.

Davidov: I’m not a specialist. Probably there are some problems, technical problems of safety of nuclear devices. The main risk comes from the continuing production and tests of nuclear devices. As far as the safety of a device in itself concerned (the possibility of an accidental explosion, or its coming apart) I think it’s safe enough. We only try to increase the degree of safety. And this is why we underline the necessity of testing (?). So I think maybe it would make sense to recognize the need for nuclear testing with the purpose of increasing safety of nuclear devices, but only under the international supervision. In order to … the possibility of further developing nuclear devices [?].

MS: Are you saying that’s what you think will happen? Do you predict that?

Davidov: No, I don’t know exactly. But I think it’s necessary to try to … four (?) parties (?) as observers at their nuclear test sites in America and in Russia because now it maybe happened (?), Russia resumed its nuclear tests in Novaya Zemlya [New Land].

MS: When?

Davidov: In fall.

MS: You mean, they will?

Davidov: Yes. After the end of a one-year moratorium. Because there’s very hard pressure on the part of the military-industrial complex for resuming nuclear testing. And also the US asked Russia to resume nuclear testing.

MS: Hah!

Davidov: Yes.

MS: I’m not surprised.

Davidov: We are raising the … of nuclear power.

MS: Well, if they do that, that’s the end of the NPT (?).

Davidov: No. They resumed … , but before the NPT conference they certainly will try to declare moratorium.

MS: Well, I don’t think … … to believe them (?). If they start doing that again at this point, I think that the NPT is finished. Most of the Third World countries are so disgusted.

Davidov: Finished?

MS: Sure. They would … all again… . They’ll say enough of this. We’ll have our own.

Davidov: You are absolutely right. But there are other things (?). Nobody in the nuclear states, nobody in the US, nobody in Russian government tries to think … about the consequences of testing (?).

MS: But this is always the argument that’s put out by people who are trying to be … … … in the US. The main argument, well, maybe not in the US, at least in Canada, but certainly to some extent in the US, the main argument that people make is if you don’t have a CTBT (?) you are not going to … … the NPT. And so they make that argument and the US sometimes has even said, “Well, we’d rather go and test even at the cost of the NPT.” I don’t think it’s an official statement, I don’t think it’s the last word but … . And I think that that may in fact see (?) the results. I have heard in the last while that the Bush Administration may be softening a little bit on that question and might be willing to consider a comprehensive test ban. But you are telling me something just the opposite if that’s what you are saying. [It] doesn’t surprise me …

Davidov: Yes, very strong pressure.

Unknown (U) [Probably Lev Semeiko]: There’s one very important technical problem here. The problem is whether it is necessary to conduct nuclear tests. I’m not a physicist. I don’t know whether it is true that it is enough to rely on this nuclear device (?) by testing it mechanically in a laboratory and say (?) whether it’s good or not. What’s your opinion? Is it [nuclear test] necessary or not?

Davidov: I can explain the American approach, the approach of the American government. Americans say that it’s necessary to test nuclear devices in order to improve their safety. But I think that now the safety [reliability?] of nuclear devices is high enough and laboratory rather on-site tests is what is necessary.

U: The second … question. Could it be that the restricted number of nuclear tests, like 4 to 6 (?) a year, would prove enough for the improvement of nuclear warheads and for the creation of new generation warheads.

Davidov: I think that’s enough.

U: OK. Is it enough to conduct three tests to improve safety of the warheads?

Davidov: Maybe this is not enough (?). But it is a combined aim (?) — to improve safety (?) … This is why I don’t (?) believe in … of nuclear testing.

U: It’s time to look at this problem from another angle. Not just in terms of East-West relations but sort of from the South. … Don’t worry. We don’t want to create a new generation of nuclear weapons, etc. Maybe not (?). … But there’s another way – the way of reduction by the US and Russia of the number of their warheads. That would be the best reason for them [non-nuclear countries] not to become nuclear.

MS: Maybe it’s enough. I don’t know whether they would consider that enough. I mean they may want a CTBT before they’d be satisfied.

Davidov: I think that before the conference non-nuclear states should exert a lot of pressure on Russia and other nuclear states so that they would conclude … I think before the NPT conference some new nuclear states – Israel, Pakistan, India – may [try to?] legalize their nuclear status. This possibility exists. Especially India and Pakistan. They want to legalize their nuclear status.

MS: I would like to see the amendment conference on the CTBT reconvened. It was cut off. Actually do you know why it was cut off? There’s a book on it. It was cut off because of the Gulf War. The Gulf War started, people wanted to quit (?), they did (?). … That’s when the bombing started. … . And they said, “OK. We will leave it up to the Chairman of the Amendment Conference to decide whether and when to reconvene it.” And so then they would wait. Now what happened? Who was the Chairman? It was a certain person. If somebody else comes in to his job, is it that person who’s got to reconvene it? I mean it’s left totally ambiguous as to what it would take to reconvene that Amendment Conference.

But the advantage of the Amendment Conference, as the root beginning the comprehensive test ban (?), is the minute we (?) could get the US and Britain to sign it, all of the other signatory countries, which is a hundred or something, immediately and automatically become the signatories to a comprehensive test ban. It’s in that original document. It’s a very unusual amendment treaty, I mean an amendment clause to a treaty. And it says that in order to convert these partial differences to a comprehensive test ban treaty all you have to do is first get a third of the signatory countries to equip (?) the depository (?) countries to call the conference. And then, of course, the nuclear countries can veto it … but then if everybody signs it, if the nuclear countries sign it, tnen automatically a hundred of other peoples are signatories to the CTBT. And that’s the way it goes (?). Much more than trying to start all over. But the main thing that the US doesn’t want to get rid of nuclear weapons. And also they don’t like multilateral conferences.

Side B

Davidov: … Zlenko, the Ukrainian Foreign Minister, also had to sign this letter. He didn’t want to do that. And only under pressure from Baker he signed it. There were heated debates in the Ukrainian Parliament. And representatives of the opposition movement “Rukh” said that the Ukrainian President Kravchuk’d committed a crime disarming Ukraine in the face of nuclear Russia.

MS: Does “Rukh” want to keep nuclear weapons?

Davidov: Yes. To remain strong [and have enough arguments?] in the disputes with Russia about the Crimea, the Black Sea Fleet, etc.

MS: When I was in Ukraine last summer the “Rukh” people were claiming to be big disarmametn types and Green types, all kinds of things. They began to quickly transform their views, especially concerning nuclear weapons. You are right they are in favor of closing the Chernobyl and other nuclear plants. But now they say that it’s necessary to stop removing nuclear weapons from the Ukrainian territory. And that it’s necessary for Ukraine to be a nuclear state.

Davidov: And they are powerful still?

Davidov: Yes. They are very powerful. And you know why? Because Ukraine has the same military-industrial complex as Russia. And their way of thinking concerning nuclear weapons is the same as in Russia. So the situation is very complicated. If, for instance, any conflict between Russia and Ukraine broke out (over the Crimea, for example) they all the nuclear weapons [still remaining?] on the territory of Ukraine would be captured by the Ukrainian military.

U: But they suffered from Chernobyl. They know what it’s all about.

Davidov: Yes, they suffered from Chernobyl, but our people suffered from the catastrophe in the Urals. But they [the Ukrainians?] feel that nuclear weapons should remain there despite all the sufferings. This is old thinking.

U: I don’t know whether it’s a theoretical or practical question, but do we consider Ukraine to be a nuclear or non-nuclear nation now? Juridically, I mean.

Davidov: It’s a controversial issue. According to the Alma-Ata Agreement and the Protocol to it Ukraine, Belarus, Kazakhstan are committed not to transfer nuclear weapons to third countries. The same kind of commitment was taken by nuclear powers under the NPT.

U: And not to have their own nuclear weapons too?

Davidov: No. They made this [which?] commitment under Article 1.

U: Article 1?

Davidov: Yes. Of NPT. Not to transfer nuclear weapons. And Ukraine, Belarus, Kazakhstan took the same commitment as nuclear states… So they are de facto (?) nuclear states.

U: There’s again a technical problem here. On the one hand Ukraine seems to be a nuclear state, but on the other it doesn’t have technical capability to launch nuclear charges because everything is in Moscow. So operationally they are dependent on Moscow.

MS: So they have all the disadvantages and none of the advantages.

U: Yes.

One American delegation was invited to see a Russian silo. And the missile in that silo was targeted against the United States. They say now the device is removed from there. Because Yeltsin’s said that Russian missiles will not be directed against the United States. I don’t know how serious that intention is because those devices can be installed back [any time?].

MS: Yeah. See, I don’t care about that. Because obviously they are not going to shoot at each other right now (?). But if there is a safety problem, that’s a whole different kettle of fish. And the real (?) question is … proliferation … That’s what we have to worry about. I mean the drama of course concerned SS 20’s and big ICBM things. But that’s not the thing that’s most worrisome, is it? Pakistan and India or Saddam Hussein getting nuclear weapons or things like that.

Davidov: The United States provoked Iraq to invade Kuwait.

U: How did it provoke Iraq?

Davidov: I’ll explain it. Some time before Iraq invaded Kuwait … had a meeting with the American Ambassador to Iraq. The Iraqi side probed the American side’s position concerning a possible Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait. And the response effectively was: it’s your affair, not ours — no objection.

MS: That is on the record. There’s no question of that. Worst yet, the former Attorney General of the US Ramsay Clark was in Iraq during the War, went around with the camera, video. He made films in Basra and … showing the extraordinary violence. I mean, the damage had nothing to do with smart bombs (?), don’t give me that. Only five per cent of them were smart, the rest of them was just saturation bombing. And then he started an inquiry which he put on in the US about three months ago, some kind of, what is it called, “A War Crimes Tribunal”. In which he collected all kinds of evidence showing that the US actually did do this collocation (?). A person I know attended that and said that they showed, believe it or not, I sort of don’t believe it, that Schwarzkopf had been sent to Iraq…

Davidov: Before the war?

MS: … Before the war on three or four occasions to…, oh, I’m not quite sure of what he did there (?), but there were a number of provocations that show pretty clearly that the US really set it up. I can’t say “pretty clearly”, but serious people believe that the US actually set it up.

Davidov: … . The United States and other countries have no chance to stop the development of nuclear weapons in Iraq without using force.

MS: Well, actually, you know, I was totally opposed to that war, not for the same reason as people here. People here opposed the war would do so because there were … buddy-buddy relationship towards Saddam Hussein. I opposed it just because it was an immoral thing to do. If they’d killed him that would’ve been fine, but they could only kill the population of Iraq, and over half of them are under sixteen years old. So to me that was terribly immoral. The only justification I can in any way accept is the argument that they were well along towards developing nuclear weapons. And that is to me not an acceptable reason but it really makes it more complicated (?) to say that it was immoral. However, if they (?) are going to say that’s it’s all right to hit Iraq because it’s building nuclear weapons, they should do the same thing to Israel, they should do the same thing to Pakistan, they should be consistent. If the world is ready to say, that any country that develops nuclear weapons is going to have the hell bombed out of it (?) … not the population, but what they did ten years ago with that reactor, that installation, I mean what the Israelis did, I can justify that.

U: With regard to this my proposition was [?] to have legal sanctions against such countries as Iraq. This amendment to the NPT (?) was adopted (?) to prevent [?] … provocations.

MS: OK. But then to do that do you think that it will be acceptable to go back to this Baruch’s proposal to put all existing nuclear weapons under the UN control? Do you think the rest of the world would then say, “OK, that’s good enough.”

Davidov: Whose proposal?

MS: Baruch.

Davidov: It is the only way to solve the nuclear problem in the world. … Germany should become a [permanent?] member of the Security Council.

U: It’s a very dangerous logic. Don’t say it to the Ukrainian government (?). They [also?] want to be a member of the Security Council.

MS: It’s nice to know that we haven’t disagreed on anything yet. That’s wonderful.

Davidov: … My personal mistake was that I failed to foresee the collapse of the Soviet Union.

U: Gorbachev agreed to a confederation. What did Shakhnazarov tell you about that?

MS: Well, I’m trying to understand what was really going on there. I asked him a very bold question, almost rude, it put him on the spot (?). So the question is: did he not understand my question, or was it his way of avoiding answering my question.

U: What was your question?

MS: Was there a coup before the coup? Was it true that in November and December Gorbachev lost control of the situation?

U: What year are you talking about?

MS: 1990.

U: 1990?

MS: Yeah. That’s when he started moving to the right. That’s when he sacked all these good people and replaced them with all these jerks. And that’s when his policies moved to the right, and that’s when people started following him around.

Davidov: You are absolutely right. There was a coup before the coup.

MS: When people went to negotiate his (?) negotiators, including himself, suddenly were accompanied by people who … there , military people. Who is Colonel-General Omelichev?

U: He is an assistant of the General Staff Commander.

MS: All right. For example, and this is not the only case, when Gorbachev went to negotiate on cruise missiles with Bush, they reached a deal on some small clause, it was not everything, but it was a clause about this or that. They reached a deal, shook hands on it and said, “We have a deal.” This Colonel-General Omelichev is in the group of people, he had not been seen there in the past. So he gets the military people together, they go and see Gorbachev. And half an hour later Gorbachev comes back and says, “Oh, I have to back up on that. I can’t agree with that.” And this sort of thing is going on all the time. Shakhnazarov’s son, a film producer, is divorced. And his wife took their child and went abroad. This is embarassing to Shakhnazarov. My friend … Mattison, who is very close with Shakhnazarov and knows him well, said they’d had a lunch … and some jerk accompanied Shakhnazarov. He knows his name but this is not an important guy. So this man is now in charge of watching of what Shakhnazarov says and does. And he even shows his power by ridiculing Shakhnazarov because his daughter-in-law takes the child out of the country. So he is with Shakhnazarov, having to sit at lunch with a guy who humiliates him publicly to show his power. Apparently this sort of thing went on all the time. People with the government were accompanied by somebody who controlled them. Until some time in the spring … Commander (?) and apparently some other guy … … the situation (?).

Well, the problem to me is: is that true; how you can reconcile this with some of the other things that Gorbachev said? When he got back from the Crimea, if this were true, I would have figured what he’d say is: I had to make a deal with these guys whom I despise, but I had to in order to give myself more time, because they would have killed me, or they would have got me out of office. And I had to do this. So all this staff that went on, in Vilnius for example, is not my doing, this is because I had to … Basically he hints at some of that in his book on the coup. He hints that he had to. And Likhotal says he had to make these deals. But if he had to, then why didn’t he say things like: Oh, I made a mistake, I trusted the wrong people; these were my friends, how could they let me down. No, all these things … He really supported them. And when I asked Arbatov, he said, “He never claimed to me that he didn’t want to do these things. He told me he was moving to the right because the country was supportive of it. He had to move to the right.” So it’s not compatible. Either he was acting under duress, they had him by the throat, or he was acting voluntarily and all these other stories are untrue. Basically that’s what I asked Shakhnazarov. He either didn’t understand me, I mean I didn’t take so long [to explain what I meant?]…

U: Does he speak English?

MS: Yes, that may be part of it. His English wasn’t great. But that’s OK. I didn’t take too much time to explain what I meant because, if it was true, all I had to say was: was there really a coup in November or not? And he would understand it. But he pretended he didn’t understand me or he didn’t understand me. And he started talking about how … the progressives, the leftists had offended them (?).

Davidov: If he had said “Yes” in response to your question, that would be criminal for him [?] [would have meant that his (Gorbachev’s?) behavior was equal to committing a crime?]

MS: What I mean he couldn’t answer me.

Davidov: I read all his articles in “Izvestia”. And he was talking in them (before the coup) about the necessity of some form of a dictatorship in the Soviet Union in order to avoid crisis.

U: At this point in time it’s hard to answer all questions. Only the future will show what really happened then.

Today I read about a very interesting fact. It was a publication by the Constitutional Court (?). There was found a document – a decision of the Politbureau dated June 14 [1991]. The Politbureau decided that it’s necessary to publish the following statement about the results of the vote in the Supreme Soviet which would be taken on the 16th of June: in favor – 98.9 , against – 1, abstained – … Before the vote was taken the results had already been decided. That’s the way the Politbureau was. And you ask whether … (laughing).

MS: OK. Will I see you again?

U: In Canada (laughing).

Davidov (speaking about the U?): His English may not be very good but he writes in Russian (?) brilliantly. His books are well known. The books on the problems we’ve just discussed. I mean the problems of nonproliferation. He wrote four, five, or six books. I don’t remember. So it was not by an accident that he was invited by the group of American scientists to the …

The Russian Quest for Peace and Democracy, by Metta Spencer, published by Lexington Books