WASHINGTON -- Russia has acknowledged that it would not meet the deadline for complete elimination of its arsenal of chemical warfare materials, the head of the international organization that oversees the Chemical Weapons Convention announced yesterday (see GSN, March 4).
For years Moscow has said it would fulfill its obligation under the convention to destroy 40,000 metric tons of chemical agents by April 29, 2012. Observers have questioned whether the nation could stick to that schedule without cutting corners on safety or security.
The new anticipated end date for Russian disposal operations is 2015, Rogelio Pfirter, director general of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, said during this week's meeting of the Hague-based agency's Executive Council.
The full text of his address was not made public today, but an OPCW spokesman confirmed the statement on Russia's chemical demilitarization time line.
An official with the Russian Embassy in Washington confirmed the need for an extension but said he did not have access to information regarding the specific schedule or the reason for the delay in completing the project.
"We have a good record in destruction of chemical weapons. We are committed to the goals of the convention," the official told Global Security Newswire. "We'll try to eliminate our chemical weapons as soon as possible," he added.
The convention originally required all member states to destroy their chemical stockpiles by April 2007, 10 years after the pact entered into force. Several states received deadline extensions in 2006, with Russia and the United States being given an additional five years to complete operations.
Washington has already declared that it would also not meet the 2012 deadline for ridding itself of more than 28,000 metric tons of materials such as mustard blister agent and the nerve agents sarin and VX. Completion of what is expected to be the last remaining stockpile, at the Blue Grass Army Depot in Kentucky, is now expected in 2021.
Pfirter and others have played down the likelihood that Moscow or Washington would be penalized for breaching their disarmament commitments.
"Given the excellent track record and firm commitment to the implementation of the convention consistently shown by the Russian Federation and by the United States of America, the key goal of achieving the total and irreversible destruction of their declared stockpiles is, in my view, not in question," Pfirter told the Executive Council, according to a press release from the environmental organization Global Green USA. "Indeed, both these 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.”
Russia began destruction of the former Soviet arsenal of blister, nerve and choking agents at the end of 2002. As of May 2009, had spent more than $5 billion on chemical disposal work and had completed operations at two sites, Global Green security and sustainability chief Paul Walker stated in a presentation last year. The entire effort, encompassing seven weapons storage installations, was expected to ultimately cost more than $10 billion.
Walker lauded Moscow for accepting a schedule that he described as both more safe and more realistic.
“This step by Russian authorities is a very positive one towards a more realistic schedule of destruction for the large Russian chemical weapons arsenal. By extending the planning schedule from 2012 to 2015, Russia is recognizing that it’s more important to meet safety and security requirements rather than deadlines," he said in the press release.
"We welcome this new announcement and congratulate Russia at the same time for already completing the safe elimination of almost 50 percent -- 20,000 tons -- of their deadly chemical weapons," Walker added.
Convention member nations Albania, India and South Korea have already eliminated smaller arsenals of banned materials, while disposal operations have yet to begin in CWC states Iraq and Libya.