POCHEP, Russia — Russia will miss the 2012 deadline for destroying all of its chemical weapons, officials said yesterday as they inaugurated a major plant to dispose of them.
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 percent 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 the country deals with its vast arsenal of weapons of mass destruction.
As a signatory of the international Chemical Weapons Convention, Russia has already 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 yesterday that Russia honors its commitment to 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 past two years, he said. Government funding has been scarce while international donors have provided only 60 percent of the expected funding.
The United States has acknowledged it will miss the deadline, too. Assistant Secretary of State Rose Gottemoeller said at the United Nations last month that the United States had destroyed 78 percent of the chemical weapons stockpiles and is on pace to destroy 90 percent of its arsenal by April 2012.
Colonel-General Valery Kapashin, a military official in charge of storage and elimination of Russia’s chemical stockpiles, said Pochep is expected to destroy its stock of chemical weapons by the end of 2014.
The weapons processed at Pochep are loaded with nerve gas such as VX, sarin, and soman, which could become a lethal weapon if they fall into the hands of terrorists. The first five tons of VX were destroyed at Pochep yesterday.