Russian President Vladimir Putin announced on September 27, 2017 that Russia had destroyed the last of millions of chemical weapons in its 40,000-metric-ton arsenal. Green Cross, which has helped facilitate the Russian chemical weapons destruction program since the mid-1990s, congratulates Russia on this historic milestone and looks forward now to Russia’s ongoing remediation of the thousands of tons of toxic waste from the chemical neutralisation process and its decontamination of the seven remaining demilitarisation facilities.
Russia signed the international Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) in 1993 and ratified it over four years later in 1997. With the help of the United States Cooperative Threat Reduction (CTR) Program and the Global Partnership Against the Spread of Weapons and Materials of Mass Destruction, Russia started its first on-site stockpile destruction of deadly chemical agents at Gorny, Saratov Oblast, in December, 2002. Over the past fifteen years, Russia has been successful in chemically neutralising all declared chemical agents at its seven stockpiles, each holding several thousand tons of deadly nerve and blister agents. The last weapon containing VX nerve agent, the most deadly of all chemical agents, was destroyed this week at the Kizner stockpile in the Udmurt Republic.
Dr. Paul F. Walker, director of the Green Cross Environmental Security and Sustainability programme, commented: “It’s been over 23 years since I first visited Russia’s easternmost stockpile at Shchuchye in the Kurgan Oblast and was astounded to see over 5,400 metric tons of nerve agents in several million artillery shells and warheads, all battlefield-ready. The destruction of Russia’s stockpile has been a very long and challenging effort from a political, economic, and social perspective. Russia, along with the dozen or more countries – especially the US, Germany, and United Kingdom – who partnered with Russia to support this historic effort, deserves much credit for permanently eliminating a whole class of weapons of mass destruction.”
Eight countries – Albania, India, Iraq, Libya, Russia, South Korea, Syria, and the US have declared chemical weapons stockpiles to the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons in The Hague, the multilateral organisation which implements the CWC. All but two – Iraq and the US – have now safely destroyed their declared stockpiles. The US has been destroying its 28,600 metric tons of chemical weapons at nine stockpiles since 1990 and is now left with about 9% of its stockpile. These remaining stocks will be eliminated by 2023. Iraq has an unknown quantity of old chemical weapons in two secured bunkers in Fallujah and has begun planning for their elimination.
Russia, which decided over twenty years ago to neutralise rather than burn its chemical weapons stockpiles, still has thousands of tons of toxic chemical waste to destroy in its second-stage processes, but this week’s milestone has now eliminated all weapons-grade agents and met the legally binding mandate of the CWC. Russia’s declared stockpile, which was 30% larger than the US stockpile, was destroyed at almost double the rate of the US program primarily due to the lack of dangerous explosives and propellant in the Russian weapons. The US program, which has safely destroyed about 26,000 metric tons to date since 1990, has completed demilitarisation at seven of nine declared stockpiles and started operations at its eighth site in Colorado in 2016. The last site in Kentucky will start up in 2-3 years.
Green Cross International, with its national affiliates – Green Cross Russia, Green Cross Switzerland, and Global Green USA, has been active as a facilitator of nuclear and chemical weapons destruction, as well as related military launch systems and toxic waste, since the mid-1990s and was the first to establish local Citizens’ Advisory Commissions (CACs), national dialogues, US-Russian exchange programs, and Public Outreach and Information Offices at all Russian chemical weapons stockpiles. This critical program to promote stakeholder involvement and capacity-building has been central to the Russian, American, and other weapons destruction efforts in the post-Cold War period. Green Cross continues to be active in strengthening and universalising the CWC and currently organizes the international CWC Coalition to promote public involvement and awareness in the historic elimination of chemical weapons. The next meeting of the CWC Coalition will take place November 27-December 1, 2017 in The Hague at the 22nd annual OPCW Conference of States Parties.
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