Russia opens key plant to destroy chemical weapons

Russia opens key plant to destroy chemical weapons

The facility at Pochep, tucked between Ukrainian and Belarussian borders 250 miles southwest of Moscow, is the latest of six plants built in Russia in recent years to dismantle its Cold War-era chemical weapons arsenals - the world's largest. Pochep will process nearly 19 per cent of Russia's stockpile, or 7,500 tons of nerve agent used in aircraft-delivered munitions.

The plant, hidden in a dense birch forest, is key for Russia's commitment to destroy all of its chemical weapons by April 2012 as Russia deals with its vast arsenal of weapons of mass destruction.

As a signatory of the international Chemical Weapons Convention, the country already has destroyed about half of its chemical weapons, according to Russian officials. Viktor Kholstov, the Russian Ministry of Industry and Trade's official in charge of chemical disarmament, said at the plant opening today that Russia honours its commitment on disarmament but it will need two or three more years beyond the previously announced deadline.

The delay had been caused by a shortage of funds in the last two years, he said. Government funding has been scarce while international donors have provided only 60 per cent of the expected funding. The Russian Foreign Ministry issued a similar warning in August, saying that, because of the global financial crisis, Russia had run into "financial and technical difficulties" that would stretch the time required for completing the disposal of chemical weapons stockpiles by up to three years.

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