RUSSIA HONORS ITS CHEMICAL WEAPONS COMMITMENTS

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On April 22, 1915 German forces used chemical weapons for the first time in history, thereby ushering in the era of mass-destruction weapons.

 Eight years ago, the International Convention on Prohibiting Chemical Weapons, their development, production, stockpiling and use entered into force on April 29, 1997. The document also stipulates their complete destruction.

Below RIA Novosti military commentator Viktor Litovkin talks with Viktor Kholstov, the deputy director of the Federal Industrial Agency, about how Russia is honoring its commitments to destroy its chemical weapons arsenals.

Question: Mr. Kholstov, what has Russia done to implement the Convention in the last eight years?

Answer: In line with the Convention a Federal target program on destroying chemical weapons arsenals in the Russian Federation was drafted. We had to destroy 1%, or 400 metric tons, of our chemical weapons by April 29, 2003. This first and main stage of implementing the Convention has been completed in full.

By late April, 2005, 863.6 metric tons of toxic substances - 622.3 tons of mustard gas (yperite) and 241.3 tons of lewisite - had been destroyed at an operational facility in Gorny township, the Saratov region. Yperite-lewisite mixtures remain. All the arsenals will be destroyed completely at this facility by the end of the year.

This country has 24 officially registered facilities that once produced chemical weapons. Of this number, eight facilities must be destroyed completely and we have destroyed seven facilities to date. The last one will be shut down by April 29, 2007. All the remaining facilities will start producing civilian goods in line with our commitments. Twelve of them have already received commercial-production certificates. And the remaining four are currently going through the approval process.

Q.: Do you mean international certificates?

A.: Of course. These are certificates issued by the technical secretariat of the International Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons. All the work is proceeding under strict international control.

Q.: Chemical weapons will not be destroyed at the Gorny facility alone. Russia stockpiled 40,000 metric tons of chemical weapons. And we must destroy 20% (8,000 tons) by April 29, 2007. What chances does the country have of meeting this deadline?

A.: Today, we must create the required industrial base for implementing the Convention's second stage to destroy 8,000 tons of chemical weapons. We will finish building a lewisite-disposal facility in Kambarka, the Udmurtia republic. That facility will eliminate 6,400 tons of lewisite stored there. Another facility is located in Maradykovsky township, the Kirov region. A facility there for detoxicating chemical warheads should be ready by late 2005. We plan to detoxicate another 4,300 tons of chemical weapons, VX gases, by April 29, 2007. That will give us more than 8,000 tons by April 2007.

Q.: What does the detoxication process mean?

A.: Each chemical weapon's warhead is opened and a detoxicant poured inside, rendering all chemical substances harmless. This process has already been tested on the required number of warheads. We will use this process on VX-gas munitions.

Q.: If I understand you correctly, these munitions will be safe after detoxication.

A.: Yes, toxic substances will disintegrate into harmless components that have nothing to do with chemical weapons. Nonetheless, these substances will be destroyed during the next stage. And each warhead will be melted down.

Q.: The United States pledged to finance construction of the Shchuchye facility's first stage. However, Washington has not allocated even one cent over the last three years. What is happening there today?

A.: You're quite right. We planned to commission that facility's first stage in 2005. The U.S. undertook to finance most of this industrial zone's construction, but the issue became politicized, and the U.S. administration cut off financing between 1999 and 2002. Naturally, we were forced to revise our deadlines for commissioning this facility. Nonetheless, the incumbent U.S. administration is displaying a more constructive approach toward its commitments on helping Russia destroy its chemical weapons.

We and our partners coordinated another construction schedule in mid-2004. The Shchuchye facility is to be completed in mid-2008. I think this is a major success. In my opinion, we will destroy all the toxic substances on time, if Washington honors its commitments.

Q.: Could you say a few more words about U.S. financial aid? As far as I remember, the U.S. promised $888 million for the Shchuchye facility. And how much have the builders received?

A.: This is a very sensitive issue. The U.S. did promise $888 million and planned to increase this sum later. As you know, Russia has not received all the required money. Our partners start mentioning different calculation methods, when we begin to discuss this issue. We suggest using their methodology. The government, the president and journalists want to know where the money is. But we cannot say for sure. The U.S. promised to provide us with accurate information coordinated at every level, meaning it would then be possible to specify these appropriations.

I would like to note the most important aspect. The builders receive enough money in line with coordinated timeframes, thereby fulfilling their commitments. And this is the most important thing.

Q.: Sergei Kiriyenko, chairman of the state commission for destroying chemical weapons, has repeatedly said that Russia gets no more than 20% of the scheduled U.S. appropriations. Is this really the case?

A.: I have heard these statements. And this is the case. These are our estimates about which we have informed out partners. They promised that the figure would increase to 40% to 45%. The U.S. partners explain these small appropriations by high administrative expenses, business-trip expenses, etc.

I would like to note that the Global Partnership program plays a very important part in the international cooperation that was launched after the 2002 G8 summit in Kananaskis, Canada. I can now say that our chemical weapons disposal program has started receiving additional international aid, although the situation is not as good as one would like.

Q.: Does Germany provide most of this aid?

A.: Yes, the Germans became our most reliable partners. We commissioned the facility in Gorny with German assistance. This enabled us to fulfil the first stage of our commitments under the Convention. Germany is now helping us to build the Kambarka facility. We are using German money to build the thermal-processing shop. Moreover, Germany is studying the possibility of building some other facilities in Leonidovka and Maradykovsky. In other words, German aid is quite tangible. We would like to thank our German partners, as well as all other countries and international organizations, for helping us destroy chemical weapons.

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