Russia Speeds Chemical Weapon Disposal

Article excerpt

The destruction of Russia's massive Soviet-era chemical weapons stockpile has been proceeding glacially, but recent actions by Russian and U.S. leaders may allow this pace to be accelerated substantially.

With slightly more than 40,000 metric tons, Russia has the world's largest declared stockpile of chemical weapons but is the furthest from completing the destruction process among the six states that have pledged to eliminate declared stockpiles under the Chemical Weapons Convention.

Russia has been given multiple interim-deadline extensions and has been granted in principle the one-time, fiveyear extension to the final deadline of 2007, but U.S. officials doubt it will meet the extended deadline either. By the end of 2004, Russia had destroyed less than 3 percent of its stockpile.

To speed up destruction, President Vladimir Putin signed the 2005 federal budget approved by the Duma and Federation Council into law Dec. 24 providing $400 million for chemical weapons destruction, more than twice the $186 million allocated in 2004. Russian officials attributed the large increase to an effort to make up for what they said was disappointing support from international donors.

Col. Gen. Victor Kholstov, head of the Russian chemical demilitarization program, and other officials have pointed to a report from the Russian government that found that only 30 percent of the funds designated by the United States for Russian chemical weapons disposal activities were being given to Russia; the rest was being used to monitor the use of the funds. However, when pressed as to whether the Kremlin had counted U.S. funding used to purchase equipment in the United States, Kholstov admitted that the 30 percent figure included only what had been transferred to Russia's Federal Agency on Industry.

In the United States, Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Richard Lugar (R-Ind.) plans to reintroduce legislation next year that would eliminate six conditions placed by lawmakers on U.S. funding of a major chemical weapons destruction facility at Shchuch'ye. (see ACT, December 2004.) In the past, these stipulations have suspended or delayed the flow of such funds to Russia. Since 2002, President George W. Bush has had and used the authority to waive the conditions on national security grounds, but it has been necessary for Congress to renew the waiver authority each year.

The most recent defense authorization bill granted the president waiver authority through December 2006. The president signed a waiver of these stipulations Nov. 29, releasing U.S. funding through the end of the 2005 calendar year. The fiscal 2005 defense authorization bill earmarks $158.4 million through September toward the construction of the chemical weapons destruction plant at Shchuch'yc.

Two conditions have been particularly difficult to meet, making a waiver necessary. One requires that Russia develop a practical plan for nerve agent destruction, while the other requires that Russia destroy all nerve agents at a single location. …