Chemical Last updated: February, 2013
From the early 1920s through the early 1990s, the Soviet Union developed, produced, stockpiled and deployed chemical weapons. As a result of its chemical warfare (CW) program, the Soviet Union had the world's largest arsenal of chemical weapons, including artillery shells, bombs, and missiles that contained choking agents (phosgene), nerve agents (Sarin, soman, and VX), and blister agents (mustard, lewisite, and mustard-lewisite mixture). There have also been allegations that the Soviet Union developed a new class of nerve agent (Novichok), estimated to be 5-10 times more toxic than VX.
Chemical Table for Russia
The CW program involved the army, industry and health system, thus encompassing an extensive secret military-chemical complex of 35-40 facilities. The Administration of the Chief of Chemical Forces (UNKhV), which was housed within the Ministry of Defense (MOD), was responsible for CW affairs and had its own research and testing facilities. The leading research facilities were the Military Academy of Chemical Protection (VAKhZ) of the Red Army in Moscow, the Central Scientific Research Military Technology Institute, and the Central Military-Chemical Proving Grounds at Shikhany, on the banks of the Volga River. The Red Army also tested experimental chemical weapons near the Caspian Sea, Lake Baikal, Florishchi (near Nizhniy Novgord), Gelendizhik, and Luga (Leningrad oblast).
As to industry, the Soyuzorgsintez All-Union Association included chemical weapons plants and research facilities; it also directed production of chemical weapons through the late 1980s and weapons development until 1 January 1993. The key institute of the chemical industry in developing chemical weapons was the State Union Scientific Research Institute of Organic Chemistry and Technology (GSNIIOKhT).
The Ministry of Health (MOH) provided sanitation and health support to the CW program through the Institutes of Labor Hygiene and Occupational Illnesses in Moscow and Nizhniy Novgorod. The MOH was also involved in the development of new generations of chemical weapons at the Institutes of Labor Hygiene and Occupational Pathology in Leningrad (now St. Petersburg) and Volgograd.
The Ministry of Agriculture chiefly supported the development of herbicides for weapons use. The Moscow All-Union Scientific Research Institute of Chemical Means of Plant Protection (VNIIKhSZR), Herbicidal Institute in Ufa, and Experimental Plant in Shchelkovo developed formulas for killing crops possessed by a "likely enemy."
Chemical weapons were produced on the shores of deep rivers using the waters of the Volga, Oka and Kama rivers for production needs, as well as for the disposal of waste. The production plants were located in Moscow, Volsk (Saratov oblast), Chapayevsk (Samara oblast), Berezniki (Perm oblast), Novomoskovsk (Tula oblast), Volgograd, Dzerzhinsk (Nizhniy Novgorod oblast), Zavolzhsk (Ivanovo oblast), and Novocheboksarsk (Chuvashia).
In 1990-1992, before signing the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC), the Soviet and then Russian Army presented for inspection and destruction 40,000 metric tons of chemical munitions and agents stored in bulk. Russia signed the CWC on January 13, 1993.
In November 1997, Russia ratified the CWC. Moscow took this step after having been assured of foreign assistance in meeting the expensive and technically difficult task of destroying its chemical weapons stockpile. In order to meet its obligations, Russia has been transforming seven of its storage sites (see table below) into chemical weapon destruction plants. The Gorny and Kambarka facilities have already completed the elimination of their chemical weapons stockpiles but disposal procedures at Pochep and Kizner are yet to begin. The 250-acre facility at Shchuchye was opened in May 2009 and over the course of several years it will neutralize two million shells loaded with VX, sarin and soman. The chemicals will then be converted into bitumen salt, placed in barrels, and stored in concrete bunkers.
By the end of 2009, Russia had met its first, second and third CWC deadlines - eliminating 1% of 40,000 agent tons in 2003, 20% by 2007 and 45% by the end of 2009. In June 2011, Russia announced that it had destroyed over half of its declared chemical weapons stockpile, but would not meet the April 2012 final deadline.  In March 2012, Moscow announced it had destroyed over 60% of its stockpile – approximately 24,000 of the original 40,000 metric tons – and anticipates the complete destruction of the stockpile by 2015.
There are currently seven specialized arsenals in Russia where chemical weapons are stored in considerable numbers. See table at top left.
International Initiatives and Support Programs
Understanding the challenge that Russia faces in destroying such large CW stockpiles and converting former CW facilities, Western governments and international organizations launched several programs aimed at destroying chemical agents and weapons, preventing proliferation of Russian CW capabilities, involving former CW scientists in cooperative projects, and promoting greater transparency. These international activities include assistance and support with:
- construction of chemical destruction facilities
- destruction of chemical weapons stockpiles
- collaborative research - to prevent former CW scientists from selling their expertise to terrorist groups or proliferant states and to use their knowledge for peaceful purposes on commercial grounds and for the mutual benefit of participants
- physical protection - to prevent unauthorized access to CW storage facilities
- conversion of former CW facilities
These projects are supported by:
- Nuclear Threat Initiative
- US Cooperative Threat Reduction Program (CTR)
- US Department of Energy's Initiative for Proliferation Prevention (IPP) program
- Civilian Research and Development Foundation (CRDF)
- International Science and Technology Centre (ISTC)
- European Union nations on a bilateral basis through the G8 Global Partnership Against Spread of Weapons and Materials of Mass Destruction. The EU contribution to the G8 Global Partnership is provided through two different mechanisms:
- European Community Technical Assistance for the Commonwealth of Independent States (TACIS) Program
- European Union Joint Action on nonproliferation and Russian Federation
- International Association for the Promotion of Cooperation with Scientists from the Independent States of the Former Soviet Union (INTAS)
- The European Union's INCO-COPERNICUS program
- Netherlands Organization for Scientific Research (NOW)
- German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD)
- UK Royal Society
- Cooperative Threat Reduction Annual Report to Congress Fiscal Year 2008, Defense Threat Reduction Agency
- "Kananaskis at Five: Assessing the Global Partnership," Paul Walker in Arms Control Today, September 2007
- Federal Target Program "Destruction of Chemical Weapons Stockpiles in the Russian Federation" 3rd version, October 2005
- Global CW Assistance
- Paul Walker (Global Green USA), "Implementation of Chemical Weapons Demilitarization: An NGO Perspective," presentation delivered at CWD 2009, Stratford-upon-Avon, UK, 20 May 2009
- Preventing the Proliferation of Chemical and Biological Weapon Materials and Know-How
- Russian Federation Chemical Weapons Disarmament Website
- Toxic Archipelago: Preventing Proliferation from the Former Soviet Chemical and Biological Weapons Complexes
- What to Expect at the Eighth Conference of State Parties to the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC)
 Lev Fedorov, Khimicheskoye oruzhiye v Rossii: istoirya, ekologiya, politika [Chemical Weapons in Russia: History, Ecology, Politics], Moscow, Center of Ecological Policy of Russia, 1994.
 Roger Roffey, Wilhelm Unge, Jenny Clevstrom and Kristina Westerdahl, Support to Threat Reduction of the Russian Biological Weapons Legacy - Conversion, Biodefense and the Role of Biopreparat, Swedish Defense Research Agency, Umeå, April 2003.
 Resolution of July 5, 2001, No. 510. Federal Target Program "Destruction of Chemical Weapons Stockpiles in the Russian Federation." The Russian Federation Government Decree No. 976, July 20, 2004.
 Philip P. Pan, "Plant to Destroy Chemical Weapons Opens in Russia," The Washington Post, 30 May 2009, www.washingtonpost.com.
 “RF leads in weapons destruction in Chemical Weapons Convention,” ITAR-TASS, 23 October 2011; “Russia postpones deadline for complete destruction of chemical weapons,” BBC Monitoring Former Soviet Union, 2 June 2011, www.lexisnexis.com.
 Rosa Magasumova, "Россия уничтожила 60,4 процента запасов химического оружия" [Russia destroyed 60.4 percent of its chemical weapons stockpiles], ITAR-TASS, 21 March 2012, www.itar-tass.com; "РФ уничтожила более 60% химического оружия" [Russian Federation destroyed over 60% of its chemical weapons], Kommersant Novosti Online, 22 March 2012, www.kommersant.ru.
This material is produced independently for NTI by the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies at the Monterey Institute of International Studies and does not necessarily reflect the opinions of and has not been independently verified by NTI or its directors, officers, employees, or agents. Copyright © 2011 by MIIS.
Get the Facts on Russia
- Maintains a nuclear arsenal of approximately 12,000 warheads
- Pursued a covert biological weapons program during the Soviet era while a state party to the BTWC
- Scheduled to complete destruction of its chemical weapons stockpile by December 2015
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