Russia tries to destroy chemical weapons on time

Before the draft 2005 budget was submitted to the State Duma, the State Commission for Chemical Disarmament held a session that was followed by a government-level discussion about the problems of destroying chemical warfare agents (CWA). The decision that came out of this meeting was straightforward: Russia must increase allocations considerably to honour its commitments under the Convention on the Prohibition of the Development, Production, Stockpiling and Use of Chemical Weapons and On Their Destruction. Instead of about $175 million allocated in 2004, the 2005 budget will provide about $433 million for the purpose.

In addition, the commission's chairman, Sergei Kirienko, announced that another $70 million was expected in foreign aid.

These increased allocations are due to a series of setbacks that have left Russia facing serious complications in terms of destroying its chemical weapons within the Convention's stipulated timeframes. They include the continuously growing construction costs of disposal facilities due to inflation and rising prices for materials, electricity and fuel, as well as regular delays in Finance Ministry allocations for the relevant work (over 30 billion rubles in 2004 prices - about $1 billion), which frustrated the 2002-2004 plans.

The second and the most important reason, Sergei Kirienko continued, is that some countries promised Moscow financial and technical support to destroy its chemical stockpiles (about 50% of all the scheduled expenses) but have not kept their word. They have postponed payments under one or another pretext and virtually halted the commissioning of the largest facility for scrapping ammunition with phosphorus and organic toxic substances in Shchuchye, the Kurgansk region, where 5,462 tonnes, or 13.6% of Russia's entire CWA stockpiles are concentrated. They include sarin, soman and VX-gases in the steel bodies of artillery shells and mines, in the heads of ammunition for rocket salvo systems and in warheads for operational and tactical, and tactical missiles. In all, there are 9,382 railway carriages of them.

The United States promised to provide funds for this facility, about $880 million. However, according to Mr Kirienko, Russia has only received less than 30% of the sum. "Together with the Foreign Ministry and the main control department of the Russian president, we ran a check and discovered that two thirds of the money allocated by Washington is spent in the US on maintaining infrastructure, and funding all kinds of concerned consultants, experts, enterprises and so on," he said. "Russia receives less than 30% of the originally allocated money. As a result, the US-funded Shchuchye facility is being built far slower, than a German-financed facility in Gorny. Therefore, the second stage of eliminating Russia's chemical weapons can be completed on time, but the priorities should be the Maradykovo and Kambarka facilities, which should primarily be funded from the federal budget."

Russia fulfilled the first stage of its plan to destroy chemical weapons by April 26, 2003: it eliminated 1% of its stockpiles, 400 tonnes of mustard gas in Gorny, the Saratov region. Now the remaining 760 tonnes have almost been eliminated there, including lewisite stocks. But this will obviously not be enough to issue a report to the international community at the end of April 2007 stating that another 20% of reserves - 8,000 tons of CWA - have been destroyed. The country needs working plants in Kambarka (Udmurtia) with 6,360 tonnes (15.9% of all stocks) of lewisite, and in Shchuchye.

Unfortunately, the latter is out of the question, as we now know, even though this is where the 5,630 tonnes of chemical weapons from the arsenal in Kizner (Udmurtia) were to be scrapped. Both facilities store ammunition and warheads for tactical and operational, and tactical missiles of the same class. Now, the state commission has re-orientated itself from Shchuchye to Maradykovo in the Kirov region, where another 17.6% of phosphorous and organic nerve and vesicant agents are stored, as well as yperite and lewisite mixtures along with VX-gases, sarin and soman; a total of 6,960 tonnes.

The Maradykovo and Kambarka facilities will allow the basis to be laid to destroy 45% of Russia CWA (18,000 tonnes) by April 29, 2007 and all stocks by the end of April 2012, as agreed with the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons in The Hague.

Nonetheless, the commission is certain that Russia must secure foreign aid if it is going to eliminate all the CWA stockpiles by 2012. The Russian economy cannot afford this. Apart from constructing the disposal plants, huge work is needed to develop social facilities in the industrial zone, to provide the local population with medical and sanitary services, and to solve many environmental problems. The Russian government must deal with these issues on its own, without any foreign sponsors.

Another important issue is the protection of chemical weapons' arsenals and their disposal facilities from terrorists and their associates. This is another headache for Moscow. There is also the problem of eliminating emergency ammunition, which increases in number with every day of delay.

Accordingly, it will take more than a billion rubles from the federal budget to destroy the chemical weapons stockpiles. However, the country should create favourable conditions for foreign investors and charities to help avert any, even the smallest, danger that Russia and Russian-made nerve or vesicant agents will poison the international community. The latest session of the State Commission for Chemical Disarmament and the Russian government decided to exempt any foreign aid, both financial and technical, from taxes and customs duties.

Hopefully, this decision will be eventually implemented, for the lack of firm guarantees in this area restricts Russia's opportunities to receive foreign aid as part of the Global Partnership programme.

RIA Novosti military commentator Viktor Litovkin

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Author`s name: Editorial Team