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former IAEA Director-General

U.S. Hikes Aid for Russian Chemical Destruction
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Daniel Horner

The U.S. government has agreed to continue “technical assistance support” for work at Russia’s Shchuch’ye chemical weapons destruction plant until the munitions stockpile there “is completely destroyed,” a Department of State spokesman said in a June 30 e-mail to Arms Control Today.

The commitment is significant because it marks a departure from a Bush administration policy that had set a firm ceiling, at just more than $1 billion, for total U.S. expenditures on Russian chemical weapons destruction, Paul Walker, director of security and sustainability at Global Green USA, said in a July 29 interview. U.S. expenditures reached that limit in fiscal year 2009, Walker said. He emphasized, however, that the early U.S. commitment to Russia was to build a “turn-key chemical weapons destruction facility at Shchuch’ye,” with no funding ceiling established.

In his e-mail, the State Department spokesman said the support “is projected to cost $35 million over 3 years.”  The job is not expected to last more than three years because U.S. technical support “has actually accelerated the chemical weapons destruction rate” at Shchuch’ye and because the United States is passing on “lessons learned” to the Russian operators, a Department of Defense spokesman said in an Aug. 31 e-mail.

Walker, a former congressional staffer, said the commitment probably would require little if any newly appropriated funds from Congress. That is partly because the Defense Department’s Cooperative Threat Reduction (CTR) program, which provides the aid for Russian chemical weapons destruction, has some “savings” as a result of favorable dollar-ruble exchange rates in recent years and partly because the pending fiscal year 2011 defense authorization bill contains language providing authority to make certain kinds of transfers within the CTR program, he said.

Asked to comment on that point, the Defense Department spokesman said, “The funds will come from a mix of current and future CTR funds.”

Russian Request

In the June 30 e-mail, the State Department spokesman said the funding commitment was “[i]n response to a recent Russian request.”

A Russian official said in a June 25 e-mail that, in the spring, Russia had “distributed among G8 [Group of Eight] partners new proposals for additional projects” at Shchuch’ye and Kizner, with a total value of $300 million. The U.S. commitment is the only formal response Russia has received, the official said in an Aug. 27 e-mail. The other G-8 members are Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, and the United Kingdom. In 2002 the group established the Global Partnership Against the Spread of Weapons and Materials of Mass Destruction, a 10-year, $20 billion effort focused primarily on Russia and other former Soviet states.

The Shchuch’ye facility houses an arsenal of the nerve agents sarin, soman, and VX in artillery shells and missile warheads. The artillery shells are considered a particular risk because they are “man portable,” that is, small and light enough to be carried off the site. Shchuch’ye began initial operations in March 2009, but construction has not been completed on the facility, especially a second main destruction building.

The size and composition of the chemical weapons arsenal at Kizner is similar to the one at Shchuch’ye—5,700 metric tons of nerve agents at Kizner versus 5,400 tons at Shchuch’ye in some 2 million man-portable munitions at each site. Construction at Kizner has not been completed. According to the State Department spokesman, “No [U.S.] decisions for technical support at the Kizner chemical destruction facility have been made at this time.”

Under the Chemical Weapons Convention, Russia was supposed to complete its chemical weapons destruction by April 29, 2012. But in June, it told the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) that it now estimates the task will take until 2015. (See ACT, July/August 2010.)

The United States also has said it will not meet the 2012 deadline. The U.S. and Russian stockpiles are the world’s largest.

At an Aug. 30 meeting with reporters in Washington, Ahmet Üzümcü, who became OPCW director-general in July, said part of the reason for the Russian delay was economic, including “commitments made by other states or organizations in terms of financial aid, which didn’t materialize in a timely manner.”

He said he was not intervening with the Global Partnership countries to press for funding for the Russian effort. However, he said he believes there is “a consensus that we should get rid of the stockpile as soon as possible” and, on that basis, he was appealing “to the international community” to provide support “within their means.”

 

Posted: September 3, 2010