Publication: Monitor Volume: 4 Issue: 124

A senior Russian official confessed last week that Russia would be unable to destroy its stockpile of chemical weapons and agents by April 2007, as called for by the 1992 Chemical Weapons Convention. General Stanislav Petrov–head of the military’s chemical troops–said that “at least an additional five years” would be needed. (Russian media, June 23) The Convention’s executive body can authorize a “minimum necessary” extension of up to five years should a country submit a request that includes a detailed destruction plan. Given their past track record in this area, the Russians would be hard-pressed to formulate a convincing petition at this time.

With some 40,000 metric tons of chemical warfare (CW) agents, Russia has the largest such stockpile in the world. While having been committed to destroying these agents for more than a decade, the Russians have barely began to scratch the surface of the problem. Laws have been passed, decrees issued, but very little money has been provided. The process is guaranteed to stir up Russia’s environmentalists. Given all its other problems with the regions, the Moscow center has been reluctant to provide strong leadership in this area. The fledgling environmental movement won a major victory in 1990 when they forced the Defense Ministry to abandon its plans to destroy chemical weapons at a plant built at Chapayevsk, a city on the Volga just south of Samara. This plant–so far the only one built–is to be used instead as a training facility. Deadline after deadline for the building of other plants has been missed. Lieutenant General Valery Kapashin, the director of the destruction program, admitted last November that construction had fallen more than two years behind schedule for lack of money. (Russian media, November 21, 1997)

Bilateral negotiations with the United States on CW destruction has also not gone as well as originally hoped. In 1990, the two sides signed a bilateral destruction agreement calling for both countries to destroy most of their CW stockpiles within ten years. The agreement has never entered into force, however, because the White House and the Kremlin have not been able to agree on the implementing protocol.

Russia has repeatedly appealed for foreign contributions to its CW destruction effort but indications are that much of the money and equipment received has been squandered or misused. Last year, military columnist Pavel Felgengauer charged that foreign funds were being used chiefly to pay the salaries and foreign travel of the bloated department formed within the Defense Ministry to oversee the program. Foreign equipment, meanwhile, was being siphoned off for other purposes. (Segodnya, November 29, 1997)

President Boris Yeltsin has apparently decided to take the control of chemical weapons disarmament out of the military’s hands and turn it over to a new federal agency–the same one that will supervise the dismantling of decommissioned nuclear submarines. However, the same players may well remain. Defense Minister Igor Sergeev indicated earlier this year that this agency would be staffed by “retired officers who will thus not have to change their profession after retirement.” (Russian media, March 11)