Publication: Monitor Volume: 7 Issue: 28

Reversing a years-long policy of official neglect, Russian officials indicated this week that Moscow will step up efforts to begin destroying the more than 40,000 tons of lethal chemical weapons the government has admitted possessing. The announcement came during a meeting in Moscow between Zinovy Pak, director of the Russian Munitions Agency, and Jose Bustani, head of the Netherlands-based secretariat of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, the agency which enforces the 1993 Paris Convention on Chemical Weapons. As one of 130 signatories to the treaty, Moscow had been obligated to eliminate 1 percent of its chemical weapons stock–400 tons–by the end of 2000. Pak acknowledged that it had missed the deadline, but assured Bustani that the Russian government had increased spending this year for chemical weapons destruction to US$105 million, a figure he said was some six times more than it had been spending previously. The United States, which after Russia has the largest chemical weapons stockpile in the world, has already destroyed about 15 percent of its arsenal.

Russian sources report that the impetus for Moscow’s new effort to meet its obligations under the chemical weapons convention comes from President Vladimir Putin. According to Izvestia, Putin made it clear during a recent meeting of the Russian Security Council that this would be a government priority. The paper also pointed out that government financing for the chemical weapons destruction prior to this year had been feeble–not more than 500 million rubles per year.

Indeed, it was Moscow’s negligence in this area which led the U.S. Congress last year to freeze funding for Russian chemical weapons destruction dispersed earlier under the aegis of the Nunn-Lugar threat reduction program. The loss of American funding forced Moscow to halt construction of a chemical weapons destruction plant located in the city of Shchuchye, in the Siberian Kurgan region. The Russian government can regain U.S. aid if it drafts a well-financed program which includes additional participation by European countries. Germany has already offered the most help, reportedly directing some US$50 million in aid to the construction of another Russian destruction plant, this one located in the city of Gorny, in Saratov Oblast. The European Union has reportedly agreed to contribute an additional 6 million euros next year, while Britain is to kick in US$18 million over three years.

As part of its effort to economize and streamline the destruction effort, the Russian government has decided to aim toward the construction of three destruction plants–at Gorny, Shchuchye and in Kambarka–rather than to build seven plants, as it had originally intended. However, even assuming that Moscow follows through on the plans Pak outlined to Bustani (which must still be approved by Putin), no one is under any illusion that Russia will be able to meet the future deadlines set out by the 1993 treaty. It obligates Russia to destroy 20 percent of its chemical weapons stockpile by April of next year, and to have eliminated it altogether by the year 2007. Russian officials are now saying that, even with the planned increase in funding, it could take until 2012 to destroy Russia’s entire chemical arsenal.

Russian officials seem likely, moreover, to continue calling for additional aid from the West. The Russian Foreign Ministry signaled Moscow’s hopes in this regard when it issued a statement on January 19 suggesting that the international community had failed to come up with the level of assistance that had been promised at the time Moscow ratified the Chemical Weapons Convention. The proffered aid amounts to just 7 percent of the US$5-6 billion which Russia will need for the task, the statement said. It is estimated that the United States will spend US$15-17 billion to destroy about 31,000 tons of its own chemical weapons stockpile (New York Times Service, February 9; Izvestia, February 2; RFERL, January 23; AVN, February 7, Russian agencies, February 8; IPS, December 29, 2000).