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Russian Weapons History Detailed

December 1, 1999

THE HAGUE, Netherlands (AP) _ Detailing plans to destroy six chemical weapons factories and convert another 18 for commercial use, an article by Russian officials has shed light on weapons production in the former Soviet Union.

The 24 former production sites are named in an article by three Russian experts published this week by the Hague-based Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons. The OPCW oversees the international chemical weapons ban treaty of 1993, which Russia ratified in November 1997.

A chemical weapons expert, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the article establishes that the former Soviet Union was one of the world’s two largest manufacturers of lethal chemical weaponry, along with the United States.

It was not clear from the article when the major periods of production were. However, it said that none of the facilities are currently being used for purposes banned under the treaty.

Six sites slated for demolition formerly produced the extremely poisonous chemicals mustard, sarin, soman, VX, lewisite and munitions containing hydrogen cyanide and phosgene. It could take until 2004 to complete the job because of the lengthy process of decontamination, it said.

Under OPCW guidelines, Russia must convert or destroy all the production sites by March 2007.

Of the 18 remaining factories, eight have already been stripped of their capabilities to make weapons and 10 others are still capable of manufacturing poison, but are being converted, the article says.

Due to a serious economic crisis, Russia is only capable of funding 10 percent of the $110 million plan, making assistance from other countries critical. Joint ventures with commercial chemical manufacturers hoping to exploit new Russian markets could also be a source of funding, it adds.

OPCW officials could not confirm that three licenses have already been issued for demolition.

Svetlana Utkina, a government scientist, Alexander Gorbovsky, a munitions expert, and Alexander Zhuchkov, an economist, authored the article for the November/December issue of Synthesis, an OPCW newsletter.

Dutch officials discussing Russian and East European disarmament on Tuesday stressed the need for higher contributions from donor countries. The Netherlands has already contributed $11.5 million to Russian programs.