Thirty-one years ago, following the nuclear disaster at Chornobyl on April 26, 1986, the Kremlin showed weakness in the way news of the disaster was initially withheld from the public.
“The nuclear disaster at Chornobyl has major implications and undermines the credibility of the Gorbachev regime” both domestically and internationally, said Prof. Bohdan Bociurkiw. The extraordinary Soviet effort to restrict information about the nuclear accident flies in the face of promises of openness made by General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev during the 27th Soviet Party Congress, Dr. Bociurkiw explained.
In his speech to the congress, Mr. Gorbachev said, “Extensive, timely and frank information is evidence of trust in the people, respect for their intelligence and feelings and of their kind ability to understand events of one kind or another on their own.”
Dr. Bociurkiw said that this latest move would sour relations with Moscow’s neighbors. In the past, he said, the Soviet coverage of the 1965 earthquake in Tashkent, Uzbekistan, lied to people by saying that only four fatalities had resulted when in fact more than 8,000 people had died from the earthquake.
“This along with the misleading Soviet coverage of the South Korean airline incident exposes the Soviet predilection for lying,” Dr. Bociurkiw said. (Korean Airlines Flight 007 from New York to Seoul was shot down by a Soviet Su-15 interceptor on September 1, 1983, resulting in the deaths of 269 people.)
It was expected that Moscow would find a scapegoat for internal purposes to save face before its own people, observers said. The disaster could also serve as an excuse to shake up the leadership in Ukraine.
A 1984 report by columnist Jack Anderson revealed that the CIA and the Pentagon knew of serious deficiencies in Soviet safety standards at nuclear power plants, and that thousands had died as a result of accidents at power plants and weapons complexes, as well as on nuclear submarines.
Source: “Ramifications of Chornobyl catastrophe,” The Ukrainian Weekly, May 4, 1986.