Russia’s first chemical weapons destruction facility began operations December 19 at Gorny in the Saratov region. The facility destroyed 840 kilograms of mustard gas on its first day, said Alexander Kharichev, advisor for the Russian state commission on chemical disarmament, according to a December 20 Interfax report.
Russia officially opened the Gorny facility August 21 but did not plan to begin destroying weapons there until December 2002. (See ACT, September 2002.) Russia’s chemical demilitarization plan, issued in July 2001, calls for completing destruction of the weapons stored at the Gorny site, mostly mustard and lewisite agents, by 2005. Under the plan, Russia would begin scrapping chemical weapons at two other facilities, Shchuch’ye and Kambarka, in 2005.
Under the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC), Russia was supposed to have destroyed 20 percent of its most dangerous (“Category 1”) weapons by April 2002, but the country missed the deadline and is just now beginning the destruction process. In October the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), which oversees implementation of the CWC, extended the deadline for Russia to meet the 20 percent mark. The CWC requires member states to complete all chemical disarmament by 2007, but Russia has requested permission from the OPCW to push its deadline back to 2012. The organization is considering the request. (See ACT, November 2002.) OPCW inspectors are at the Gorny facility and will monitor the destruction process there.
In a December 25 press release, Russia expressed gratitude to Germany, the European Union, and the Netherlands for providing financial and technical assistance at Gorny. “We hope for as fruitful international cooperation in the future during the construction of new chemical disarmament facilities in Kambarka and Shchuchye,” the release said. Meanwhile, Russia and Poland signed an agreement December 17 for Poland to provide more than $100,000 and scientific assistance for Russian chemical disarmament.
Zinoviy Pak, the head of the Russian Munitions Agency, said that Russia has budgeted $174 million for destroying chemical weapons in 2003—about the same as Russia’s 2002 chemical disarmament budget, the Associated Press reported December 25. Russia will need substantial foreign financial assistance to meet its CWC deadlines.