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Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)

Russian Chemical Weapons

Russia is one of 192 members of the 1993 Chemical Weapons Convention, which classifies hazardous chemicals and regulates their production and sale. The Russian Federation was the home of the former Soviet stockpile of chemical weapons - consisting of a declared stockpile of nearly 40,000 metric tons of chemical nerve, blister and choking agents. According to some reports, the total stockpile exceeded 50,000 tons, with an additional 32,300 ton stockpile of phosphorus agents.

During World War II, production of all types of chemical agents increased dramatically. Yperite alone was produced by 30 plants with a total capacity of 35,000 tons/year, and Lewisite was produced by 13 plants. Industrial production of sarin began in 1958-1959, production of soman began in 1967, and industrial production of V-agents began in 1972. In the early 1980's special storage facilities were built at industrial sites in Volgograd, Novocheboksarsk, Zaporozhye, Pavlodar, Volsk, and a number of other cities. Production of chemical weapons was discontinued in Russia in 1987.

In October 1991, Vil S. Mirzayanov, a chemist who had worked for more than 25 years in the Soviet CW program, alleged that Moscow had developed a series of new and extremely lethal "third generation" nerve agents under a secret program code-named Foliant. His assertions were confirmed by two other scientists, Lev A. Fedorov and Vladimir Uglev. It was also claimed that Russia was working on developing new binary chemical warfare agents under the designation Novichok ["New Guy"]. Mirzayanov alleged that Russia intended to test and produce binary chemical weapons after ratification of the Chemical Weapons Convention. He was jailed in 1992 and 1993, though the US protested his arrest and the case against him was dismissed. After the Mirzayanov scandal, this work was officially reported to be suspended.

Approximately 80 percent of the Russian stockpile was nerve agent. The specific agents in the Russian Federation stockpile are Sarin (GB), Soman (GD) and viscous Soman, Mustard (H), Lewisite (L), Mustard-Lewisite mixture, Phosgene, and Russian VX. Russian VX, generally referred to as R-VX, is similar to the U.S. variant, but has some structural differences in its formula. Additionally, unlike the VX in the US stockpile, R-VX occurs in both thickened (viscous) and non-thickened varieties, requiring the destruction process to address both types effectively.

The agents were stored in a variety of munitions and containers: projectiles, bombs, rocket warheads, missile warheads, spray tanks and bulk containers. The Russian stockpile of R-VX, Sarin, Soman and Phosgene is 100 percent weaponized, while the Mustard, Lewisite and Mustard-Lewisite mixture are stored primarily in large bulk containers (similar to, but much larger than, the one-ton storage containers in the U.S. stockpile). With the exception of "complex" munitions, none of the Russian chemical weapons contain explosive components. The welded construction of the Russian munitions makes it impossible to use the reverse-assembly technology developed in the United States. Consequently, the Russian Federation needed to develop a different destruction approach than that adopted in the United States. Also, due to the lack of explosive components in the majority of these weapons, the selected Russian destruction technology does not need to include deactivation as a step in the process.

Of the seven locations where these agents were stockpiled, five store nerve agents - Shchuch´ye, Kizner, Pochep, Leonidovka and Maradykovsky. The remaining sites, Kambarka and Gorny, primarily store blister agent. The facility at Shchuch´ye also stored Phosgene. The chemical weapons stored at each installation are categorized by the branch of the military service that commands the installation. The Air Force-controlled installations (Pochep, Leonidovka and Maradykovsky) contain primarily air-delivered weapons. The storage locations, as well as Kizner and Shchuch´ye, were under the command of the Russian Ground Forces and contain primarily rocket and tube artillery warheads/projectiles. The Chemical and Biological Forces are responsible for Gorny and Kambarka, which only house blister agents in bulk containers. Russian officials have denied allegations that Russia possessed strategic missiles carrying multiple reentry vehicles loaded with chemical agents, or that Russia had the capability to deliver chemical agents using strategic bombers.

Russia began to destroy its chemical weapons stock in December 2002, when the first plant was started up in Gorny, Saratov region. Another two facilities were launched in Kambarka, Udmurtia, and Mirny, Kirov region, in 2006. The Leonidovka plant (Penza region) was launched in 2008, the Shchuchye plant (Kurgan region) in 2009 and the Pochep plant (Bryansk region) in 2010.

In its August 2011 Condition 10(C) Report the U.S. State Department states, "The Russian CW Stockpile. The United States assesses that Russia’s CWC declaration is incomplete with respect to chemical agent and weapons stockpiles. Undeclared CWPFs and CW-Capable Facilities. The United States notes that there are additional facilities that Russia may have been required to declare as CWPFs. The United States continues to seek clarification of reports about mobilization capabilities at declared and non-declared facilities. Russian CW Development Facilities. The United States does not share the Russian view that development facilities, including CW testing facilities, should not be declared because of the Russian interpretation of the CWC “primarily for” criterion in Article III of the CWC." These concerns were repeated verbatim in the 2013 report.

Russia's last supplies of the deadly chemical weapon soman have been destroyed, Russia's Federal Administration for the Safe Storage and Destruction of Chemical Weapons announced on 25 March 2017. "On March 25 2017 at the Kizner facility for the storage and destruction of chemical weapons in the Udmurt Republic, in accordance with the schedule for the destruction of chemical weapons in the Russian Federation, the last drop of the poisonous substance soman was destroyed," the administration's head Colonel-General Valery Kapashin stated. "As of today, Russia's supplies of the poisonous skin irritant mustard gas and the organophosphate soman have been completely destroyed."

Along with mustard gas, sarin, lewisite and other chemical warfare agents, the Convention placed soman in the most dangerous Schedule 1 category of chemicals. Soman is a nerve agent that can cause convulsions, loss of consciousness, paralysis and respiratory failure in large doses. It is a clear, colorless liquid that mixes easily with water. If heated, the chemical forms a vapor that may be inhaled or come into contact with the eyes or skin of the victim. Parties to the convention declared world-wide stockpiles of 9,057 tons of soman and pledged to destroy them.

With the destruction of over half a million munitions containing 1,395 tons of soman, Russia has destroyed 97 percent of its chemical weapons supplies. According to Rossiyskaya Gazeta, Kapashin said that Russia is on course to completely destroy its chemical weapons stockpiles and fulfil all its obligations under the Convention ahead of schedule, on 24 October 2017.


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