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US, Russia plant worthy path

RUSSIAN and United States officials yesterday formally opened a massive plant in Siberia that is to destroy some 2 million chemical weapons shells, hailing the move as a milestone in global security and in cooperation between Moscow and Washington.

The village-sized plant in Shchuchye, about 1,600 kilometers east of Moscow, was largely funded by the US under the Cooperative Threat Reduction initiative. The US contribution exceeds US$1 billion.

"The path to peace and prosperity for both Russia and the United States depends on how we resolve the threats posed by the arsenals built to fight World War III,'' US Senator Dick Lugar, a Republican, said at the opening ceremonies yesterday. ''Thankfully that confrontation never came. But today we must ensure that the weapons are never used, and never fall into the hands of those who would do harm to us or others."

He is a co-author, with former Senator Sam Nunn, of the legislation that led to the CTR.

"The United States and Russia have too much at stake and too many common interests to allow our relationship to drift toward conflict. Both of our nations have been the victim of terrorism that has deeply influenced our sense of security," Lugar said.

The weapons at Shchuchye, loaded with nerve gases including VX and sarin, have a cataclysmic potential for terrorist attacks. If set off in a tightly packed area, each could kill tens of thousands of people. Many of them are small enough to fit in a briefcase.

Russia, as a signatory of the international Chemical Weapons Convention, is obliged to eliminate its vast stores of Class I weapons - chemicals that have no use other than in arms. Moscow already has destroyed about 30 percent of its stockpile, according to the Russian Munitions Agency.

"In this context, Shchuchye is the most important facility allowing us to fulfill this task," said Viktor Khristnko, Russia's minister of industry.

But the Shchuchye facility significantly boosts destruction capacity. Russian officials claim it will allow the country to meet its treaty obligations of destroying all chemical weapons by 2012, although Lugar said that goal probably won't be met.

The opening is significant because of the dangers posed by the weapons.


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