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Russia Acts On Decaying Chemical Arms Dumps

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Moscow (UPI) Dec 05, 2005
On Thursday, a second Russian facility to destroy stocks of chemical warfare agents came on line in the village of Kambarka in Udmurtia.

At the time when the convention on banning chemical weapons was concluded (1993) Russia had the world's largest quantity of such chemicals -- 40,000 tons, followed by the United States with 36,000 tons. Kambarka stores 6,349 tons of lewisite, a blister agent, in huge rail tanks embedded in concrete. These stocks are to be eliminated by the end of 2007.

The facility's detoxicating capacity of over 2,500 tons of lewisite a year is enough to achieve the planned destruction without much effort. Especially since Russia has ample experience of safe and effective disposal of chemical agents gained at the first facility in the village of Gorny in the Saratov region, which stored 1,143.202 tons of yperite and lewisite. All these chemicals are to be demolished by the end of this year.

The yperite, as Viktor Kholstov, deputy head of the Federal Agency for Industry, told the fall session of the International Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons in The Hague, is practically destroyed, while the remaining 241.3 tons of lewisite will be detoxicated by the end of this December.

Additionally, Russia has abolished all third-category chemical weapons -- unarmed chemical ammunition and devices for using it, including powder charges -- a total of 330,024 units -- as well as second-category chemical weapons -- for example, phosgene. The third category embraces chemicals that are not so toxic as yperite, lewisite or nerve gases such as sarin, soman or VX gases but are no less harmful.

Also abolished are seven of 24 declared facilities, which in the Soviet years produced chemical weapons. The remaining eighth will be torn down before April 29, 2007. The rest, as agreed between Moscow and The Hague, are being converted to civilian production. Twelve of them have already obtained civilian output certificates, while four more are in the process of receiving them.

By the end of the current year the first stage of a chemical destruction facility is to go into operation in the village of Maradykovsky in the Kirov region. It is designed to detoxicate chemicals loaded in artillery ammunition and the warheads of tactical and shorter-range missiles. Warehouses in this village also store 6,089 tons of VX gases.

By April 29, 2007, Kholstov told RIA Novosti, about 4,300 tons of these agents will be destroyed.

Combined, the three facilities will demolish more than 8,000 tons of chemical weapons by April 2007. Moscow will be able to report to the world community the fulfillment of the second stage of the abolition of its toxic stocks.

Considering that chemical destruction plants are now being built in other places of storage -- Kizner in Udmurtia, Shchuchye in the Kurgan region, Pochep in the Bryansk region and Leonidovka in the Penza region -- there are grounds for hoping that by 2009 Russia will fulfill its obligations concerning the third stage -- it will destroy 45% of its stocks. By 2012, it will fully dispose of its entire stock of "battlefield chemistry."

This has become possible because recently the Russian government has paid particular attention to the process. It is regularly allocating the required funds -- which make up a total of 171 billion rubles or nearly $6 billion. For 2006 alone the required sum is 18 billion rubles or $600 million.

The hope for overseas aid, which so inspired Russian officials in the previous years and was actually promised by the world community, did not materialize.

Especially graphic is the example of the chemical facility at Shchuchye in the Kurgan region, with the United States promising to finance the entire project. It pledged Russia a minimum of $888 million, but allocated only 10 percent of the sum promised. Also, for a number of years, Washington has been refusing to contribute a single cent for different reasons. This made the Kremlin revise its program, and focus on other facilities rather than Shchuchye, which contains 5,456 tons of sarin, soman and VX gases - a total of 9,382 carloads. Otherwise Russia would have defaulted on its international obligations.

Not all countries have acted like the United States. Germany contributed a sizeable amount of resources for the construction of facilities in Gorny and Kambarka. Britain is a big donor by helping to build the facility at Shchuchye. Help comes from Italy, Norway, the Netherlands, the European Union, Canada, New Zealand, the Czech Republic, Poland and Switzerland.

Good prospects, Kholstov said, exist concerning understandings with Sweden, Finland, France and Ireland. At the same time, he said, foreign aid is helping to build only three of seven facilities. And cooperation with overseas partners in chemical disarmament is mainly in the form of equipment deliveries, creation of elements of industrial and engineering infrastructure, assembly work, adjustment and start-up operations, and specialist training.

Foreign states are unwilling to finance capital investments in construction proper, but these costs make up 40 percent of all construction expenses involved. Also, they refuse to finance the provision of social infrastructure, which is being built in the interests of the regions and to facilitate the operation of the facilities. These expenditures account for 10 percent of the total cost of the facilities.

But all this no longer plays the decisive role, believes the deputy head. By opening another plant at Kambarka, Russia has eloquently proved that even with limited foreign aid it is able to honor its international commitments to destroy its stocks of toxic chemicals.

Viktor Litovkin is a military commentator for the RIA Novosti news agency. This article is reprinted by permission of RIA Novosti.

United Press International's "Outside View" commentaries are written by outside contributors who specialize in a variety of important issues. The views expressed do not necessarily reflect those of United Press International. In the interests of creating an open forum, original submissions are invited.

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