BBC News, August 9, 1999: US Helps Dismantle Former Soviet Novichok Plant In Uzbekisan

Monday, August 9, 1999 Published at 20:46 GMT 21:46 UK

World: Asia-Pacific

US dismantles chemical weapons


A group of American defence experts have arrived in Uzbekistan to start helping the Uzbeks dismantle and decontaminate one of the former Soviet Union’s largest chemical weapons testing facilities.

US officials say the chemical research institute in western Uzbekistan was a major research site for a new generation of secret, highly lethal chemical weapons, known as Novichok.

Congress has allocated up to $6m for the project, after the US signed an agreement on assistance to help dismantle the institute earlier in the year.

[ image: Americans have already visited the desert near the Aral Sea]
Americans have already visited the desert near the Aral Sea

The research centre is housed in a closed military complex and until the early 1990s was a major research site for the chemical weapons the Soviet Union still produced.

The institute was staffed solely by Russians and it was only when they left in 1993, taking with them much of the equipment and documentation, that what had gone in there slowly began to emerge.

According to a senior defector from the Soviet chemical weapons programme, the Soviets used the plant to produce small batches of a lethal new generation of nerve agents called Novichok, or New Boy in Russian. They were designed to escape detection by international inspectors.

Some of these were then tested on the nearby Ustyurt plateau, a forbidding desert west of the Aral Sea, in contravention of treaties Moscow had signed.

Now independent Uzbekistan is only just beginning to learn the legacy it has been left.

The Uzbeks have since worked closely with the Americans, giving them access to sites that in other parts of the Soviet Union are still off limits.

US military scientists and intelligence experts have already visited the nearby island of Vozrozohdeniye in the Aral Sea, which was the Soviet Union’s main open air biological testing site and where hundreds of tons of the deadly anthrax bacteria are believed to have been buried.

For the moment though, the Americans are concentrating on the chemical research institute and of making it safe. Over the next six days a team of 16 defence experts will be at the plant working out how that can best be done.