Publication: Monitor Volume: 6 Issue: 102

To no one’s surprise, the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW)–the body which oversees the implementation of the 1993 treaty banning the possession and use of chemical weapons (CW)–last week agreed to delay the deadline for Russia to begin destroying its large stockpile of chemical weapons. According to the treaty, the Russians should have destroyed 1 percent of their 44,000-ton stockpile by April 29 of this year. In fact, virtually no Russian chemical weapons or agents have been destroyed to date. It is uncertain when the process will begin. The Russians promised that they would do their best to meet the treaty’s next deadline of April 29, 2002, by which time they are to have destroyed 8,800 tons of their CW stockpile. Few believe that they will even come close to that target.

The Russians seem unable or unwilling to commit the vast sums needed to get rid of these weapons but have also yet to come up with a feasible and convincing destruction program to attract the large influx of foreign money they seek. There has been some foreign assistance, particularly by the United States, but also by Finland, Germany, the Netherlands and Sweden. But these funds fall far short of Russia’s needs, estimates of which vary, probably because the program remains so ill defined. Various officials of the federal Munitions Agency have set the total cost at from 50 to 110 billion rubles. They agree, however, that the money budgeted for this task is inadequate. Zinovy Pak, the agency’s head, recently told the State Duma that it will take 100 years to destroy the Russian stockpile if funding continues at the current miserly pace. He complained that only 590 million rubles had been allocated in 1999, a figure he claimed was but one-tenth of the need. In contrast, the U.S. program to destroy the American 31,500-ton stockpile will probably cost some US$15 billion. Since the effort began in the 1980s nearly 18 percent of American CW weapons and agents have been destroyed. The General Accounting Office recently warned, however, that the United States probably would not be able to meet its 2007 deadline to complete the destruction.

More American money might be given to the Russian program were it not for poor Russian cooperation in some of the projects and continuing suspicions that the Russians are still working on banned biological weapons. The U.S. had originally agreed to fund much of the work on a destruction facility at Shchuch’ye, in the Kurgan region of Siberia, some 190 kilometers northeast of Chelyabinsk. Here 5,450 tons of nerve agents are loaded in some 2 million shells and missile warheads. The local town is run down and the Russians had promised to modernize the infrastructure as part of the deal. They have not carried out their part of the bargain and, as a result, Congress has repeatedly cut the project’s funding. Last week the Senate Armed Services Committee, while approving more than US$1 billion in aid dealing with nuclear weapons, materials, and scientists in the former Soviet Union, held up US$25 million for the Shchuch’ye facility. The House Armed Services Committee had earlier taken a similar stand. The Shchuch’ye project also illustrates one aspect of American aid which has been criticized both here and in Russia: that it ignores the greater environmental threats to Russia presented by the older chemical weapons. Much of the Russian stockpile is in the form of mustard gas, phosgene, yperite and the like developed before World War II. Of virtually no military utility this aging stockpile presents a real environmental hazard. Some charge that the U.S. has given relatively little money to alleviate this problem while concentrating out of self-interest on the more military dangerous nerve agents in the Russian stockpile.

Foreign donors would also be more forthcoming if they were confident that Russia was not replacing its chemical weapons stockpile with an even more dangerous biological threat. In a recent report to the Congress, the General Accounting Office noted the Soviet Union’s large biological weapons infrastructure remained largely intact with much of it in Russia. While bureaucratic changes had given many of these facilities a civilian veneer many of the leaders from the Cold War era were still in place. Some research facilities remained under Ministry of Defense management and the GAO noted that U.S. requests to visit these facilities were continually rebuffed (The Washington Post and AFP, May 19; AP, May 9, UPI, May 5; Boston Globe, April 24; AFP, April 21; GAO report GAO/NSIAD-00-138, April).