Funds Lacking for Chemical Disarmament

The top official in charge of destroying Russia's chemical arsenal said Monday that the biggest threat to the program was a lack of certainty in funding.

"Today our strategy of how to complete the task of disarming is perfectly clear -- what technologies to use, how, where and what to build. Problem No. 1 today is a lack of certainty in funding -- from both the Russian budget and the budgets of donor countries," said Zinovy Pak, head of the Russian Munitions Agency.

Russia has the world's largest arsenal of chemical weapons -- some 40,000 tons -- which it pledged to destroy when it ratified the Chemical Weapons Convention in 1997. However, Moscow has dragged its feet on disarmament because of a shortage of funds.

The United States pledged to help, but suspended some funding amid doubts about Russia's own financial contribution. There are also some concerns about Moscow's commitment to carrying out its obligations under chemical and biological weapons treaties.

Speaking to journalists at a conference on Russia's chemical disarmament, Pak said the 2002 U.S. budget included aid for Russia's chemical disarmament, but that Congress was allowing this money to be used only for strengthening security around chemical weapons facilities, not for building new ones.

Last week, former Prime Minister Sergei Kiriyenko, who now serves as chairman of the State Commission on Chemical Disarmament, said the commission expected the Russian government to allocate 6 billion rubles ($194 million) in the 2003 budget for chemical weapons destruction. That would represent a huge increase over recent years; in 2000, Russia allocated only 500 million rubles, he said.

Pak said Monday that 400 tons of chemical weapons, or 1 percent of the arsenal, was scheduled to be destroyed in 2003, 20 percent in 2007, 45 percent in 2009 and the rest in 2012.

On Dec. 15, Russia plans to open a new facility for chemical weapons destruction in the Volga River town of Gorny.

In a message read at Monday's conference, Rogelio Pfirter, general director of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, praised Russia's funding increases to the program and said the last two years had seen "positive changes" in Russia's approach to its obligations under the convention.