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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Cabinet Revises Plan to Destroy Arms

The Cabinet on Thursday approved a new chemical weapons destruction plan intended to cut costs and asked for an extra five years to eliminate the world's largest arsenal of the deadly munitions.

Russia ratified the international Convention on Chemical Weapons in 1997, committing itself to destroy the 40,000-ton stockpile within a decade. But it has failed to begin the destruction, saying it could not afford the $7 billion program — despite pledges of aid from the United States, Europe and Canada.

"We can no longer tolerate this situation," Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov told the Cabinet. "Today we must clarify the program of destroying chemical weapons stockpiles and be certain the program will be fulfilled."

The new program is expected to cut costs by up to half, in part by scaling down the original plan for seven destruction plants to three or four. Chemical weapons at four other storage sites would be made harmless and transported for complete liquidation.

Zinovy Pak, head of the Munitions Agency in charge of the destruction effort, said experts would also explore ways to profit from the byproducts of destroyed munitions to recoup the costs of destruction, Interfax reported.

However, he said "ecological problems would in any case be the first priority," according to Interfax.

People living near the planned destruction sites say they're nervous about possible accidents — though proponents of destruction have pointed out that accidents or theft are also theoretically possible at the seven sites where the weapons are currently stored. Inspectors have reported some leaks in aging containers.

The government budgeted $120 million for the destruction effort in this year's budget — six times more than in 2000. Former Prime Minister Sergei Kiriyenko, now a presidential representative overseeing the chemical weapons destruction process, said Russia should earmark 9 billion rubles ($310 million) next year for the program, but that 6 billion rubles ($206.8 million) would be more realistic.

Kiriyenko also said the government would request the five-year extension the convention allows, until 2012, to complete the liquidation program.

None of the planned destruction plants — each expected to cost some $1 billion — has been completed. The first small plant for destroying stores of mustard gas and other so-called choking agents, in the town of Gorny in the Volga River region, is not expected to start until next year.

U.S. officials helping construct a nerve agent destruction plant in the Urals town of Shchuchye say that facility will not start operating until 2006 at the earliest — and then only if the U.S. Congress resumes the funding it has suspended for two years.