Russia Revises Chemical Arms Deadline

Daniel Horner

Russia has said that it will not meet the Chemical Weapons Convention’s April 2012 deadline for destroying its stockpile of chemical weapons, the head of the convention’s implementing body said June 29.

Rogelio Pfirter, director-general of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), said in remarks to the OPCW Executive Council that, during “informal consultations” the previous day, Russian delegates had said they estimated that their country would complete the destruction by 2015.

Experts have long said Russia was unlikely to meet the convention’s April 29, 2012, deadline (see ACT, July/August 2009), and recent Russian press reports have indicated the deadline would slip. However, Pfirter’s statement was the first official confirmation of the revised schedule.

Russia did not release a public explanation for the changed date. A diplomat at the Russian embassy in Washington said in an e-mail to Arms Control Today, “My government will make all necessary steps in order to achieve the earliest destruction of all Russian CW [chemical weapons]. Our priorities for this process are the highest standards for safety in CW destruction for human life and health as well as for the environment.”

In a June 29 interview, Paul Walker, director of security and sustainability at Global Green USA, said the decision shows that Russia is “clearly putting safety and cautiousness ahead of speed and deadlines.” Pfirter also cited the need to give priority to safety and environmental concerns.

Walker praised the move as “a very positive step forward” for Russia, the OPCW, and others who are “planning for the ultimate verified abolition of chemical weapons globally.”

Russia and the United States hold the world’s largest stockpiles of chemical weapons. The United States had previously announced that it would not meet the 2012 deadline and has set 2021 as the target date.

In his remarks, Pfirter said the deadline slippage did not call into question the Russian and U.S. commitment to “the key goal of achieving the total and irreversible destruction of their declared stockpiles.” The two countries “have consistently shown their resolve to abide by their commitments under the Convention, and I for one have no doubt that they will continue to stay on track,” he said.

Walker said the completion date is “difficult to predict” for a variety of reasons, such as funding uncertainties, the need to obtain environmental permits, the limited availability of some technologies, and the possibility of accidents. For those reasons, the Russian and U.S. completion dates could move forward or backward from the current estimates, he said.