MOSCOW — Russia on Wednesday completed the task of destroying its huge, Cold War-era chemical weapons stockpiles, winning praise from an international chemical weapons watchdog.
Russian officials reported the destruction of the country's last remaining artillery projectile filled with VX toxic agent to President Vladimir Putin. The work took place at the Kizner facility in the Urals, one of seven facilities built in Russia to destroy chemical weapons in an effort that has spanned two decades and cost billions of dollars.
Ahmet Uzumcu, director-general of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, commended Russia for achieving a "major milestone" with the destruction of its chemical arsenals.
"I congratulate Russia and I commend all of their experts who were involved for their professionalism and dedication," he said in a statement.
The OPCW oversees global efforts to eliminate stockpiles under the Chemical Weapons Convention that took effect in 1997. It says over 96 percent of the weapons declared by the convention's 192 participants have been destroyed.
Putin noted that Russia wrapped up the destruction of its chemical weapons stockpiles ahead of schedule, adding that the effort underlined the nation's commitment to nonproliferation efforts.
"It's truly a historic event, given the huge size of the chemical arsenals inherited from Soviet times, big enough to entirely destroy life on Earth several times," Putin said in a video call with officials in Kizner. "This is a huge step toward making the world of today more secure and balanced."
In a shot at the United States, Putin criticized it for lagging behind in dismantling its chemical arsenals. "We expect the U.S., as well as other nations, to fulfill all their obligations," he said.
Russia launched the program of dismantling its chemical weapons stockpiles when it was still reeling from post-Soviet economic meltdown in the 1990s. It relied on the U.S. and other Western aid in the early phases of the program, but later came to fund the effort from its own coffers as the Russian economy rebounded.
Russia has spent more than 290 billion rubles (more than $5 billion) to destroy nearly the 40,000 metric tons of chemical weapons it possessed, Economics Minister Denis Manturov said, according to the state RIA Novosti news agency.
This story has been corrected to say that there were seven weapons destruction facilities, not five.