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Russia: Chemical Weapons Convention Goes Into Effect Without Russia

Prague, 29 April 1997 (RFE/RL) -- A new international treaty banning chemical weapons went into force today but without the participation Russia, one of its major signatories.

The Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) bans the use, development, production, or stockpiling of all chemical warfare agents. It also requires participating countries to destroy their existing stockpiles of chemical weapons over the next decade. It was negotiated in 1993.

But Russia, the only nation other than the United States which admits to having chemical weapons, has failed to ratify the treaty after having earlier signed it. Moscow postponed its ratification at the last moment when the Communist-dominated State Duma (lower house) last week overrode the Kremlin's support for the treaty.

The Duma voted Friday to put off ratifying the treaty until later this year because of what it called the "very difficult economic conditions" in Russia. The Duma decision came one day after the U.S. Senate gave its approval to the treaty.

Vladimir Lukin, the head of the foreign affairs committee of the Duma, asked for international understanding for the Duma decision. He told reporters Friday that Russia simply cannot afford to begin paying for dismantling its chemical weapons arsenal amid other pressing budget problems. He said, "there's a lack of cash (and) we have one of the largest amounts of chemical weapons, so we have to have understanding from the West."

Correspondents say that Russia would need to spend some $5 billion to destroy the some 40,000 tons of chemical weapons it produced and stockpiled during the Cold War years. The money needed to dismantle chemical weapons would be about five times what the Russian military spent last year on science reasearch and development, according to the International Institute for Strategic Studies in London.

The Duma sent an explanatory statement to the more than 160 countries which have signed the treaty, including the 87 which have so far ratified it. The statement pledged the legislators' intent to endorse the accord "if possible" this Fall, and asked for a "significant increase" in international financial help to implement the treaty. It also requested that Russia not be excluded from the international administrative bodies which will be created to monitor the CWC.

U.S. State Department Spokesman Nicholas Burns said last week that Washington is "extremely disappointed" with the Duma decision. He said Moscow's non-participaton is going to damage Russia because Russians will not be able to take part in planning the treaty's implementation. This will be conducted by a new Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons being set up in The Hague to police the convention.

Moscow's failure to ratify the treaty limits the accord, at least in the immediate future, to countries which either do not have chemical weapons or have previously pledged to destroy them. China ratified the treaty yesterday hours before it went into effect. Three other countries suspected of holding chemical weapons -- North Korea, Libya and Iraq -- have not yet acceded to the convention.

Critics of the treaty in several Western governments argued unsuccessfully against signing the CWC by saying it would do little to stop "rogue nations" such as Iraq, Iran, North Korea, and Syria from producing and using poisoneous gas and other chemical weapons.

But supporters of the convention say the only way to isolate such nations is for countries opposing the use of chemical weapons to band together to press for the weapons' elimination.

Hailing American ratification of the treaty last week, U.S. President Bill Clinton said it would mean "our troops will be less likely to face poison gas on the battlefield (and) our hand will be strengthened in the fight against terrorists." He said he hoped that the treaty would allow the world to "end a century which began with the horror of chemical weapons in World War I much closer to the elimination of those kinds of weapons."