Russia pushes back deadline for destroying chemical weapons

MOSCOW (AP) — Russia will delay its deadline for destroying chemical weapons stockpiles by as much as three years due to budget and technical problems, the Foreign Ministry said Tuesday.

Under the international Chemical Weapons Convention, Russia was to eliminate all its chemical weapons by 2012.

But the Interfax news agency cited the ministry as saying that because of the global financial crisis "we have run into objective financial and technical difficulties which oblige us to extend by 2.5-3 years the period of concluding the liquidation."

The ministry confirmed the comments to The Associated Press, but did not elaborate.

Officials in the United States, another treaty signatory, also have acknowledged they are likely to miss the 2012 deadline.

The treaty obliges signatories to eliminate Class I weapons — chemicals that have no use other than in armaments. Under the convention, Russia so far has destroyed 19,151 tons (21,000 short tons) of weapons chemicals, about 48 percent of the country's stockpiles, according to a statement from the government of the Kirov region, where one of Russia's three weapons-destruction facilities is located.

Russia last year took a major step toward fulfilling the convention with the opening of a vast weapons destruction plant in Shchuchye in western Siberia. The plant, built with the help of $1 billion in aid from the United States, is designed to destroy about 2 million chemical weapons shells loaded with nerve gases, including XV and sarin.

The plant was opened after substantial delays due to disputes over how the shells were to be destroyed and finding a reliable subcontractor.

(This version CORRECTS Recasts the first paragraph; corrects the spelling of "Shchuchye" in the penultimate paragraph.)