President Mikhail Gorbachev may not have the means to carry out a treaty he is expected to sign to destroy Soviet stocks of chemical weapons.
Western officials say that the Kremlin last year closed its only facility able to carry out the task and has disclosed no plans to build another."There has been no public announcement and the Soviets have made no communication to the United States on their plans to destroy the weapons," said a Western official involved in the negotiations.
"We still have no idea how they plan to do it," the official said, declining to be further identified.
Top U.S. and Soviet leaders have been silent about this curious aspect of the chemical weapons pact.
Spokesmen at the Soviet ministries of defense and foreign affairs declined to discuss how they will fulfill the prospective treaty, which has been touted by U.S. and Soviet officials as a highlight of the Washington summit.
The pact, concluded when the U.S. and Soviet foreign ministers met in Moscow in May, requires the superpowers to destroy 80 percent of their chemical weapons immediately. They would reduce their stocks to 2 percent of existing levels in the next eight years, and destroy the rest two years later if all other countries capable of producing chemical weapons join them in a global ban, officials said.
The United States has an estimated 30,000 tons and the Soviets 50,000 tons of chemical weapons, according to government sources and independent experts.
The U.S. Army tested a destruction facility on Johnston Atoll in the Pacific Ocean this spring and is building similar plants in six states.
The Soviets built a destruction plant in Chapayevsk, 550 miles southwest of Moscow, but last summer it fell victim to the growing environmental movement. Residents of Chapayevsk, a center of the Soviet chemical industry, complained the plant would add to already high levels of pollution in their city, and it was never used.
Unable to calm residents' fears, Soviet officials closed the facility and asked the Supreme Soviet to find a safe site to build a new one. So far, none of the lawmakers has volunteered a district for the new plant.
The sites in the United States where the government will destroy its chemical weapons are in Utah, Maryland, Kentucky, Alabama, Indiana, Oregon, and Arkansas. The technology tested at Johnston Atoll, to be used at other sites, burns the chemicals at 2,700 degrees, and filters the exhaust.