MOSCOW >> President Vladimir Putin of Russia presided over the destruction of his country’s last declared chemical weapons today, describing the elimination as a “historic event” and complaining that the United States has failed to purge its own chemical arsenal.
The carefully choreographed event, broadcast on state television, cast Putin as a peacemaker and determined defender of international law. It seemed designed to offset the reputation he has acquired for belligerence and the flouting of international norms amid Russia’s military interventions in Ukraine in 2014 and in Syria.
As has become customary at public appearances by the Russian president, Putin used the occasion to take a dig at Washington and to suggest that it was playing a devious double game.
The United States, he said, “is unfortunately not observing the deadline for destroying chemical weapons” based on treaty obligations. “They have pushed the date back three times, citing lack of budget funding. Frankly, this sounds strange, but whatever.”
There was no immediate response from U.S. officials in Washington to Putin’s remarks.
Both Russia and the United States — which hold the world’s biggest stockpiles — were supposed to destroy all of their chemical weapons by 2012 under an international agreement, the Chemical Weapons Convention, that they each signed in 1993 and which went into force in 1997. The final deadline for the elimination of chemical weapons was initially set for 2007. But with neither of the two countries close to meeting that goal, the deadline was extended to 2012.
Neither Russia nor the United States met that new deadline either, although Putin boasted today that Russia was three years ahead of a 2020 deadline it had set for itself.
State television showed Putin ordering officials at a destruction center in the central Russian village of Kizner to dismantle the last shells containing lethal chemical agents. The green shells, each unscrewed by a machine in a sealed container, bore the words “Farewell, chemical weapons” painted in white in Russian.
Valery Kapashin, the head of the Russian agency responsible for the storage and destruction of chemical arms, told Putin by video link to the president’s country home outside Moscow: “Comrade commander-in-chief! The chemical weapons of the Russian Federation have now been entirely eliminated.”
Hamid Ali Rao, the deputy director of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, a Hague-based body that polices adherence to the 1993 convention, declared the event “a truly momentous occasion.”
He said that it “signals the full elimination of all chemical weapon stockpiles declared by the Russian Federation.”