MOSCOW, JUNE 24 -- In a sign of how much the world has changed, a bristling Soviet-era radar station long denounced by the United States as violating an arms control treaty is about to become a furniture factory.
The Krasnoyarsk radar station in Siberia has been mostly dismantled, and local authorities are awaiting official approval from Moscow and Washington to begin converting the site to a purpose more useful for today's hard-pressed Russians.
"We haven't decided what kind of furniture yet. We are still just drawing blueprints," said Nikolai Baranov, a top official with the Krasnoyarsk regional government. "But I support the idea of producing consumer goods, things people really need."
The Krasnoyarsk phased-array radar station for years was a point of bitter contention between the United States and the Soviet Union. Reagan administration officials detected the site in 1983. They charged that the facility in the heart of eastern Siberia violated the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) treaty, which permitted early warning systems only on the country's periphery.
The Soviet government denied any violation, saying the facility was a satellite monitoring station.
But in 1987 Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev ordered construction halted and allowed Westerners to inspect the site. A year later the Kremlin announced it was transferring Krasnoyarsk to the Soviet Academy of Sciences for conversion into an international center of space research, a decision the U.S. government attacked as a ruse.
In 1989 the Soviet Union announced it would raze the facility after Foreign Minister Eduard Shevardnadze admitted it violated the ABM treaty. His decision clearly was not entirely popular among the Soviet military leadership.
Since then, however, the Soviet Union has vanished, Gorbachev has been pushed from office, Shevardnadze is running Georgia and the once-mighty military-industrial complex is almost as bankrupt as the rest of the economy. Russia and the United States, meanwhile, have become "partners."
In this context, regional authorities decided to move in and, like local governments throughout the country, grab a facility that could be lucrative in the new era of markets and consumers. Furniture is extremely hard to come by here and, given the huge forests of the Krasnoyarsk region, a furniture plant seemed a good idea, Baranov said.
According to Baranov, Krasnoyarsk regional officials proposed the furniture factory to Moscow a few months ago. In April, they got a letter from the Russian Foreign Ministry saying it was trying to clear the idea with Washington. Since the dismantling was being done under the terms of the ABM treaty, a decision to save what is left of the buildings for a furniture factory needed U.S. approval.
The news agency Interfax reported this week that acting Russian Prime Minister Yegor Gaidar already has signed a directive to allow the furniture factory at the radar site. To assuage U.S. concerns about not destroying the building completely, the Americans will be able to inspect the site thoroughly, Interfax wrote.
Baranov said he hopes the government will give the go-ahead soon. In the meantime, he and other officials are drawing up their plans and, like good capitalists, trying to figure out what sorts of furniture will sell best.