Editor’s note: This is the second in a major series of WorldNetDaily
investigative reports on Russian arms-control violations and the very real
nuclear threat they indicate, by former Time magazine reporter Kenneth R.
Part 1 revealed the full extent of a major Soviet violation of an 1987 arms-control agreement, and how the SS-23 nuclear-tipped missiles the Soviets secretly stashed away are still awaiting destruction in Slovakia today. In today’s report, Part 2, WND examines the super-secret nuclear war-fighting command center within Russia’s Yamantau Mountain.
By Kenneth R. Timmerman
© 2000, WorldNetDaily.com, Inc.
WASHINGTON — Deep in the Urals, in the region of Beloretsk, rises a mountain called Yamantau. It is believed to conceal one of Russia’s darkest nuclear secrets — a secret President Clinton, members of Congress and the U.S. military top brass have raised repeatedly with Russia’s leaders, without ever receiving a response.
Some U.S. analysts believe the secret underground complex beneath Yamantau Mountain betrays a lingering belief among top Russian leaders that they must continue to prepare to fight and win a nuclear war. Russians say they still fear the U.S.
As WorldNetDaily revealed yesterday, it is now known that the Soviet Union used secret underground bases in Eastern Europe to conceal nuclear missiles at the end of the Cold War, as an integral part of its nuclear war-fighting strategy. In all, some 73 SS-23 missiles, packing a nuclear punch 365 times the bomb that detonated over Hiroshima, were hidden by the Soviets in violation of the INF Treaty, which went into force in June 1988.
|On May 10, the Slovak Defense Ministry rolled out the SS-23s it had inherited from a secret Soviet missile cache left over from the Cold War. The U.S. will assist Slovakia in dismantling them later this year.|
If war had broken out those missiles would have given the Soviets an overwhelming strategic advantage against the United States, allowing them to decimate NATO forces in Europe in a surprise attack. The last of these missiles will be destroyed this summer by the government of Slovakia, under a grant from the United States.
Today, Russia may be conducting nuclear deception on a far vaster scale beneath Yamantau Mountain, where it has dug out a gigantic underground military complex designed to withstand a sustained nuclear assault. U.S. intelligence sources tell WorldNetDaily that the Yamantau complex is but one of some 200 secret deep underground nuclear war-fighting sites in Russia, many of which have been significantly upgraded over the past six years at a cost of billions of dollars.
|This declassified Defense Intelligence Agency map shows the relative location of the underground Yamantau Mountain complex.|
Since the end of the Cold War in 1991, U.S. intelligence sources believe the Russian government has pumped more than $6 billion into Yamantau alone, to construct a sprawling underground complex that spans an area as large as Washington, D.C., inside the Beltway — some 400 square miles.
In 1998, in a rare public comment, then-Commander of the U.S. Strategic Command (STRATCOM) Gen. Eugene Habinger, called Yamantau “a very large complex — we estimate that it has millions of square feet available for underground facilities. We don’t have a clue as to what they’re doing there.”
It is believed to be large enough to house 60,000 persons, with a special air filtration system designed to withstand a nuclear, chemical or biological attack. Enough food and water is believed to be stored at the site to sustain the entire underground population for months on end.
“The only potential use for this site is post-nuclear war,” Rep. Roscoe Bartlett, R-Md., told WorldNetDaily. Bartlett is one of the handful of members of Congress who have closely followed the Yamantau project.
The Yamantau Mountain complex is located close to one of Russia’s remaining nuclear weapons labs, Chelyabinsk-70, giving rise to speculation it could house either a nuclear warhead storage site, a missile base, a secret nuclear weapons production center, a directed energy laboratory or a buried command post. Whatever it is, Yamantau was designed to survive a nuclear war.
In response to repeated U.S. inquiries, the Russian government has provided no fewer than 12 separate and contradictory explanations for the site, none of them believed to be credible. The Clinton administration admits that the Russian government has refused to provide any information on the underground complex. Despite this, administration officials tell Congress not to worry.
A 1997 Congressional Research Service report said that the vast sums invested to build the Yamantau Mountain complex “provide evidence of excessive military modernization in Russia.” Russia is pouring money into this and other underground nuclear sites at the same time U.S. taxpayers have provided billions of dollars in aid to Russia to help dismantle nuclear warheads taken off line as a result of START I and START II.
“Yamantau Mountain is the largest nuclear-secure project in the world,” said Rep. Bartlett. “They have very large train tracks running in and out of it, with enormous rooms carved inside the mountain. It has been built to resist a half dozen direct nuclear hits, one after the other in a direct hole. It’s very disquieting that the Russians are doing this when they don’t have $200 million to build the service module on the international space station and can’t pay housing for their own military people,” he said.
The Russians have constructed two entire cities over the site, known as Beloretsk 15 & 16, which are closed to the public, each with 30,000 workers. No foreigner has ever set foot near the site. A U.S. military attaché stationed in Moscow was turned back when he attempted to visit the region a few years ago.
Neither the Central Intelligence Agency nor the Defense Intelligence Agency would comment on what the Russians were doing at Yamantau Mountain.
“There’s not a lot we could say without venturing into the classified realm,” CIA spokesman Mike Mansfield said. “It’s hard to discuss it with any specificity.”
|This U.S. satellite photograph of the Yamantau Mountain region was taken on Oct. 16, 1997, and annotated by the Defense Intelligence Agency. Clearly recognizable signs of excavation can be seen at the areas marked Yamantau Mountain and Mezhgorye. Two above-ground support cities, each housing 30,000 workers, are located at Beloretsk and Tirlyanskiy.|
Both agencies have provided repeated briefings on Yamantau to Congress, and have declassified satellite photographs which reveal above-ground support facilities for the underground sites as well as telltale signs of excavation.
The very little that is known publicly about the site comes from Soviet-era intelligence officers, who defected to Great Britain and the United States. In public testimony before a House Armed Services Subcommittee last October, KGB defector Col. Oleg Gordievsky said the KGB had maintained a separate, top-secret organization, known as Directorate 15, to build and maintain a network of underground command bunkers for the Soviet leadership — including the vast site beneath Yamantau Mountain.
“And what is interesting,” said Gordievsky, was that President Yeltsin and Russia’s new democratic leaders “are using those facilities, and the same service is still running the same facility, like it was 10, 15 years ago.”
Yamantau Mountain is so secret that only a handful of Russian government officials knows about it, says Rep. Curt Weldon, R-Pa., who speaks Russian and travels frequently to Russia, chairing a congressional working group that discusses strategic issues with counterparts from the Russian Duma.
“I ask the Russians about it every time I meet with them,” Weldon told WND. “We’ve never had a straight answer.”
Weldon got interested in Yamantau Mountain in 1995 when he saw a public report suggesting it was a vast mining project.
“I went to Moscow and spoke with the deputy interior minister who was in charge of mining,” Weldon says. “I asked him if there was any mining activity there. He just shook his head and said he had never heard of it. So I mentioned the other name the Russians use for it: Mezhgorye. He said he hadn’t heard of that either. Then he sent an aide out to check. Twenty minutes later, the aide came back, visibly shaken. He said they couldn’t say anything about it.”
Weldon says he also met with Andrei Kokoshkin, a former deputy defense minister who was put in charge of President Yeltsin’s National Security Council.
“Kokoshkin called it a public works project, and said there was nothing to worry about, since the Defense Ministry had no involvement in it. So I brought out a copy of the Defense Ministry’s budget — it’s only a few pages long — and showed him the line item for Mezhgorye. He smiled and said it must be for bridges, roads and schools. When I then asked if I could see it, he said that could only be arranged through Yeltsin. The site was controlled directly by the president.”
So Weldon says he drafted a 3-page letter to Yeltsin in Russian.
“I told him all the things I was trying to do to foster better U.S.-Russia understanding, but said that I couldn’t help if they couldn’t clear up something as important as this,” Weldon told WND. “He never replied.”
Weldon twice asked Gen. Sergeyev, commander of the Strategic Rocket Forces about Yamantau.
“He said it was a command center, and that we had the same kind of thing in our country at Cheyenne Mountain in Colorado. He suggested that eventually we could be allowed to come visit it. Despite his promise, that has never happened. Clearly, this is a project that is so secret that only the upper level of the government know about it.”
The work at the Yamantau complex is only part of Russia’s current efforts to modernize and reinforce some 200 deep underground command posts, nuclear warhead repositories and clandestine missile sites. Some CIA and Joint Chiefs of Staff analysts believe these assets will give Russia a strategic advantage over the U.S. in the event of nuclear war.
|The U.S. intelligence community has been observing Sherapovo for many years. Initially built in the 1950s, it was modernized a first time in 1978, at the height of détente, then again in the mid-1980s. This declassified U.S. intelligence photograph shows surface support areas and secret above-ground entrances to the underground bunkers. In time of war, Russia’s civilian leadership can be evacuated from Moscow along a secret subway line. Once at Sherapovo, they can conduct the war effort using a highly redundant communications system “allowing the leadership to send orders and receive reports through the wartime management structure,” according to a 1988 Pentagon report. Over the past six years, the Russian Federation has again upgraded Sherapovo, intelligence sources tell WorldNetDaily.|
Among these Russian sites is the Sherapovo command and control center, south of Moscow.
This site, which is large enough to house 30,000 people, is the civilian command center the Russian government can use in time of war. It is connected to a network of deep underground bunkers built beneath the Kremlin, and linked to Moscow by a secret subway line.
Russia’s general staff has a similar facility some 20 kilometers away from Sherapovo, known as Checkov, which can also accommodate an estimated 30,000 people.
A separate facility, located 850 miles east of Moscow at Kosvinsky Mountain in the Urals, has been designed as the Russian equivalent of the
Cheyenne Mountain Operations Center in Colorado, where the United States can track incoming ballistic missiles.and command U.S. forces to counter-attack.
Altogether, the CIA now estimates that these sites can house some 150,000 Soviet civilian and military leaders and are impervious to direct nuclear strikes.
By contrast, the three U.S. nuclear war-fighting command centers (Cheyenne Mountain, Fort Richie, Maryland and Mount Weather, Virginia) were designed in the 1950s to withstand first generation atomic weapons. They have not been upgraded, despite the fact that Russia’s arsenal is composed of large “city-busting” thermonuclear weapons. Only Air Force One is considered to be invulnerable in the event of a nuclear strike, intelligence sources told WND.
|This CIA artist’s conception shows a simple underground bunker, before the recent upgrading. These bunkers are now believed to be linked via secret subway lines to command centers outside Moscow.|
Under the START II agreement, the U.S. and Russia are supposed to reduce their nuclear arsenals to 3,500 warheads each. Since then, Presidents Clinton and Yeltsin agreed to a further reduction to 2,500 warheads. Administration officials are now talking about a START III agreement that would bring the levels down to around 1500 warheads.
In an unusual move, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, not a source of opposition to administration plans until now, recently told the administration that they could not recommend such deep reductions, the Washington Times reported last month.
Intelligence sources familiar with U.S. and Russian nuclear-war fighting scenarios explained why: The U.S. must keep back a “strategic reserve” of 400 megatons to deter Russia from attacking U.S. cities, where 80 percent of the U.S. population lives. By contrast, only 25 percent of Russia’s population lives in cities.
Given the smaller size of current U.S. warheads — around 300 kilotons — this task alone would require more than 1,200 warheads, leaving only 300 warheads for strategic targeting, the sources said.
The 200 deep underground sites in Russia are considered “weapons sinks” by the CIA and JCS targeting analysts, and require multiple warheads each.
“In other words, at 1,500 warheads, the U.S. would have to choose between attacking missile silos or command and control centers, a dilemma the Russians wouldn’t face,” one analyst told WND.
Russia’s track record of cheating on previous arms control agreements and its massive underground building program in recent years provide an ominous backdrop to President Clinton’s negotiations with Russian President Putin in Moscow.
See Part 1:
Russia’s hidden nuclear missiles
COMING TOMORROW: Part 3, The New Russia. President Clinton’s offer in Moscow to share missile defense technology was rejected by President Putin. But with new information coming out on Russia’s record of violating past arms accords, should the United States be making such offers in the first place? WorldNetDaily examines the deal Clinton offered Putin and how it’s being received in the United States Senate, where new arms control treaties must be ratified. And with the help of Russian experts, WorldNetDaily takes a fresh look at the new Russia — one ruled increasingly by the military, determined to reconstruct the core of the Soviet empire and renew its strategic relationship with communist China.
Kenneth R. Timmerman is a veteran investigative reporter who has published three books on the arms trade and intelligence issues. In congressional testimony last year, he revealed the existence of an ICBM program in Iran known as the “Kosar,” helping to spark legislation that imposed sanctions on Russia for transferring missile technology to Iran. A contributing editor to Reader’s Digest, the former Time magazine correspondent is currently writing a book on Bill Clinton’s corrupt relationship with communist China.