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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Experts Warn Crisis Stalls Chemical Arms Disposal

The economic crisis and bureaucratic disarray are stalling Russia's efforts to destroy its stockpile of chemical weapons, experts said Tuesday, warning that without more foreign assistance Russia will be unable to abide by its commitments to eliminate the weapons.

Russia, which has accumulated 44,000 tons of chemical weapons, ratified the international Chemical Weapons Convention a year ago and is required to destroy its first 400 tons of the deadly chemicals by 2000.

Alexander Pikayev, an expert with the Moscow Carnegie Center, and Natalia Kalinina, a chemical weapons expert working for the government, warned at a news conference Tuesday that the plans for weapons destruction were stalled due to a lack of financing.

For the next 10 to 15 years, Russia needs close to $6 billion to construct facilities for the elimination of the accumulated chemicals that could cause paralysis, blindness or severe skin problems. The government released only a small fraction of the necessary funds, $10 million, from 1995 to 1997, they said.

To fulfill the requirements of the international convention and its own federal program, Russia needs to build weapons disposal facilities at its seven chemical storage sites, most urgently in the Saratov region and in Udmurtia, where chemical arms have been stored since 1946.

Government financing has been scarce and recently has almost come to a halt, the experts said, while foreign financial and technical support has been less than expected.

The United States has been the single largest donor. Since 1994, it has appropriated $194 million for the Saratov facility, which is under construction.

Compounding the problems, Russia still has not appointed a federal agency to coordinate the work. A special presidential committee currently handling the weapons destruction lacks the necessary authority, Duma deputies representing the affected regions said Tuesday.

Some chemicals are kept in rusting metal barrels, and some remain within bomb shells.

Russia is the single largest holder of chemical weapons in the world. The U.S. stockpile is estimated at 32,000 tons.

Russia announced that it stopped producing and developing new chemical weapons in 1987.

Pikayev suggested that members of the Paris Club of creditor countries help finance Russia's disarmament efforts by restructuring Russia's debt. In 1999. Russia is supposed to repay $17.5 billion.

If Russia doesn't find the money to pursue its chemical weapons disposal program, it could resort to dumping the weapons on the ocean floor or burning them, Pikayev said.

Environmental activists have long warned of the dangers of 300,000 tons of chemical weapons resting on the floor of the Baltic Sea since World War II.