Stalin’s Secret Weapon

The Origins of Soviet Biological Warfare

October 2018 9781849048958 240pp


Stalin’s Secret Weapon is a gripping account of the early history of the globally significant Soviet biological weapons programme, including its key scientists, its secret experimental bases and the role of intelligence specialists, establishing beyond doubt that the infrastructure created by Stalin continues to form the core of Russia’s current biological defence network.

Anthony Rimmington has enjoyed privileged access to an array of newly available sources and materials, including declassified British Secret Intelligence Service reports. The evidence contained therein has led him to conclude that the programme, with its network of dedicated facilities and proving grounds, was far more extensive than previously considered, easily outstripping those of the major Western powers.

As Rimmington reveals, many of the USSR’s leading infectious disease scientists, including those focused on pneumonic plague, were recruited by the Soviet military and intelligence services. At the dark heart of this bacteriological archipelago lay Stalin, and his involvement is everywhere to be seen, from the promotion of favoured researchers to the political repression and execution of the lead biological warfare specialist, Ivan Mikhailovich Velikanov.


‘Eye-opening . . . [Rimmington’s] remarkable findings . . . [and] painstaking analysis of the Russian archives is [a] real achievement . . . an important book.’ — The Scotsman

‘Thorough and well researched, this book presents a detailed overview of early Soviet BW activities, as well as the chaotic and harsh environment in which these activities developed.’ — Cold War Studies Journal

‘Rimmington’s book is a fascinating and at times horrifying read that is highly recommended to anybody interested in arms control or the excesses of totalitarian regimes.’ — The Russian Review

‘A fascinating account of Stalin’s multi-pronged, well-resourced and ambitious biological weapons programmes. Rimmington expertly synthesises intelligence assessments and academic publications, concluding that much of the structure created by Stalin is still in place.’ — Jonathan Brewer, Visiting Professor, Centre for Science and Security Studies, King’s College London

‘Under Stalin the Soviet Union aimed to be at the forefront of every branch of weapons development. Soviet tanks and planes became world-famous; Soviet anthrax, plague, and other pathogens remained a closely guarded secret. Rimmington’s careful study has mapped the surprising dimensions of this little-known branch of Soviet military industry.’ — Mark Harrison, Professor of Economics, University of Warwick

‘In this pathbreaking book, Anthony Rimmington peels back successive layers to reveal the inner workings of a secret state. The efforts of Soviet scientists and various intelligence agencies to discover what was going on are outlined in remarkable detail. Original and fascinating.’— Michael Goodman, Professor of Intelligence and International Affairs, Department of War Studies, King’s College London

‘A ground-breaking study of the Soviet biological weapons programme, based on hitherto unexplored Russian material and declassified British intelligence reports.’ — Iain Lauchlan, Lecturer in History, University of Edinburgh


Anthony Rimmington is Honorary Senior Research Fellow at the Centre for Russian, European & Eurasian Studies, University of Birmingham. He has published several scholarly articles on the Soviet Union's offensive biological weapons programme and the civil life sciences industry in Russia and the former Soviet Republics.

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