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Disarmament Diplomacy

Issue No. 45, April 2000

Russia Struggling to Meet CWC Requirements

Russia's difficulties in meeting its obligations under the Chemical Weapons Convention were candidly spelt out and examined during the period under review. At the 19th session of the Executive Council of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) - the CWC's implementing authority - in The Hague from April 3-7, Russia sought and obtained the adoption of a recommendation of a deferral on the deadline of April 29 for the destruction of 1% of its chemical weapons stockpile. The recommendation will now be put to the 5th Session of the Conference of OPCW States Parties taking place in The Hague from May 15-19. In addition, in the words of a relieved Russian Foreign Ministry statement of April 11, "the Executive Council recommended the Conference to appeal to all state members of the Chemical Weapons Convention to give Russia assistance in the destruction of its stockpile…"

On March 31, OPCW Director-General Jose Bustani expressed his strong support for providing all possible assistance to the Russian authorities: "We have to face reality - without substantial international assistance Russia will not be in a position to destroy its chemical weapons within the time frame set by the Convention… A quantum leap in the level of such assistance is required for it to reduce, let alone eliminate, the current backlog."

According to General Valery Kapachin of the Russian Defence Ministry, addressing reporters on the CWC issue on March 31, Russia possesses a chemical weapons stockpile amounting to a staggering 44,000 metric tons, and estimates the cost of its elimination, together with the conversion of facilities, at between $5-$6 billion. Under the terms of the Convention, Russia is committed to completing the elimination process by 2007, ten years after the accord's entry into force. However, as Kapachin bluntly stated: "We haven't destroyed anything as of today."

On April 5, a US-funded ($18.5 million) research laboratory was opened in the State Scientific Research Institute of Organic Chemistry and Technology in Moscow. The laboratory will study technological options for destroying CW stocks. According to US Ambassador James Collins, speaking at the opening ceremony: "The laboratory represents the heart of the programme to equip the Russian Federation with adequate facilities to ensure the safe, secure, environmentally sound and expeditious destruction of chemical weapons." A US-funded destruction facility is also planned, to be based near Shchuchye, 960 miles east of Moscow. Speaking after the ceremony, Yuri Kapralov, head of the department of the Russian Foreign Ministry responsible for CWC issues, urged other states to follow the US lead: "We see that the United States has taken efforts to help us, but a large number of other countries have also promised their assistance… I must underline that this is not a charity effort."

Note: according to OPCW figures, the US has so far destroyed 17% of its 32,000 metric ton stockpile.

Reports: Russian Foreign Ministry Statement 222-29-3-2000, March 29; Russia calls for help destroying chemical weapons, Reuters, March 31; Russia - weapons disposal not started, Associated Press, March 31; US helping destroy Russian weapons, Associated Press, April 5; Russian Foreign Ministry Statement 275-11-4-2000, April 11.

© 2000 The Acronym Institute.

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