Russia Seeks Another Extension for Destroying Chemical Weapons

By Sergei Blagov | July 7, 2008 | 8:15 PM EDT

Moscow ( - Russia warned Monday that it would not be able to meet its commitment to destroy one-fifth of its chemical weapons stockpiles by a 2007 deadline.

Viktor Ozerov, chairman of the Federation Council's Defense and Security Committee, told journalists in Moscow that a shortage of funds would prevent Russia from destroying more than 8,000 tons of poisonous substances -- or some 20 percent of the total -- by 2007.

He also acknowledged that some 33,000 items of damaged chemical ordnance needed to be destroyed as soon as possible.

Russia has more than 40,000 ton of chemical weapons -- the world's largest declared stockpile -- stored at seven sites in western Russia.

They include blister agents such as mustard gas and lewisite, and nerve agents such as sarin and VX.

Moscow ratified the Chemical Weapons Convention in 1997, thereby undertaking to destroy the weapons -- four-fifths of which are nerve agents -- by 2007.

But it has fallen behind schedule in its commitment, and has repeatedly asked for more time and more international funding to meet the target safely.

In 2000, Russia sought a five-year delay, saying it would complete the task by April 2012 but in the meantime destroy 20 percent of the stockpile by 2007.

Now Ozerov says Russia won't even be able to do that.

Moscow previously said it needed up to $6 billion to liquidate the chemical arsenal, and asked the West to provide money to construct seven plants for the purpose.

The U.S. government has committed nearly $900 million towards the destruction facilities, including one at Shchuchye in the Ural Mountains, where about 14 percent of the chemical arsenal is stored.

Shchuchye, the largest of the planned destruction plants, began operations earlier this year.

Lev Fyodorov, head of the Russian non-governmental organization Union for Chemical Safety, charges that the facilities being build, including Shchuchye, are based on untested destruction technologies.

He has also pointed out that apart from seven official storage facilities, hundreds of caches of old chemical weapons randomly buried throughout the former Soviet states could rupture and leak at any time, posing serious environmental threats.

Another concern of Fyodorov is that the Chemical Weapons Convention deals only with post-World War II chemical stocks. Chemical weapons produced between 1915 and 1946 remain unaccounted for.

Many underground dumps, containing an estimated 120,000 tons of weapons -- more than the entire existing Russian and U.S. stocks combined -- had been "lost and forgotten," he said.

Officials in charge of destroying the chemical weapons repeatedly have denied Fyodorov's claims, saying that the problem was not as big as he charged.

But some officials have conceded that some contamination could result from old storage sites or unexploded chemical ordnance.

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