News | July 14, 2021

DTRA’s Historic Chemical Weapons Destruction Efforts in Former Soviet Union

By Andrea Chaney Defense Threat Reduction Agency

FORT BELVOIR, Va.—Throughout 2021, the Defense Threat Reduction Agency’s (DTRA) Cooperative Threat Reduction (CTR) Program is celebrating 30 years of collaboration with foreign partners to prevent the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) by securing and eliminating chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear (CBRN) material, infrastructure, and expertise.

To commemorate CTR’s milestone, DTRA will highlight significant contributions from CTR, among them the Chemical Security and Elimination (CSE) program. The CSE program, formerly known as the Chemical Weapons Elimination (CWE) program and Chemical Weapons Destruction (CWD) program, started in 1992 to assist the states of the Former Soviet Union (FSU), namely Russia and Uzbekistan, to reduce the threat from chemical weapons (CW) by securing and eliminating CW stockpiles, chemical research capabilities, and production facilities, while also redirecting scientists to peaceful purposes. Early CSE projects required DTRA project managers and contractors to work directly with and in FSU countries, an unfamiliar concept at the time to those involved.

From 1992 through 2013, CSE partnered with Russia by providing an analytical lab for monitoring CW destruction and separately secured two nerve agent storage sites. CSE also dismantled two nerve agent production plants, built a chemical weapons destruction facility, and provided technical support for the elimination operations.

Scott Crow, current DTRA Department Chief overseeing the CSE Program and former project manager for chemical security in Russia, began his career at DTRA in uniform in 2003. His projects took him almost exclusively to Russia as a member of the nuclear weapons site security and transportation teams before transitioning to a civilian role four years later. He said one of his biggest takeaways working in Russia was how similar the people were to himself and Americans.

“I grew up at the tail end of the cold war as a junior naval flight officer,” said Crow. “We developed a healthy respect for the Russian military and the country in general,” he said. “However, there was this notion that Russia was the big bad bear and they were the enemy. But when I got there to work certain projects, I realized they were just like us; regular people, with families they loved and wanted to live in peace,” he said. “I really respected that.”

The chemical security project Crow later managed in Russia began right after Congress enacted the 1991 Nunn-Lugar legislation. This legislation included authorities to destroy and safeguard chemical weapons in the Soviet Union, its republics and successor entities. This legislation coincided with U.S. support for the development and implementation of the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC). On July 30, 1992, the Department of Defense (DoD) and the President’s Committee on Conventional Problems of Chemical and Biological Weapons signed the Chemical Weapons Destruction Implementing Agreement. DTRA agreed to partner with Russia to destroy its chemical weapons in a safe, secure, and environmentally-sound manner, with both the U.S. and Russia acceding to the CWC.

Crow’s responsibilities later included management of the chemical demilitarization facility in Russia. Crow inherited a completed facility design with construction already started, so he needed to learn the mission and partners quickly.

“They had 50 percent of construction completed but there was still so much left to do,” he said. I remember today the dollar amount we had and couldn’t surpass because it was such an important figure.”

Crow said due to time and budget constraints, CSE had to shift its strategy to complete the infrastructure improvements at hand. He said the Russians came to them and offered to manage the contract themselves and with assurance the work would be complete on time and under budget.

“We took a leap of faith and came up with a trilateral agreement,” Crow said. “The Russians lead the contractors and provided oversight for the subcontractors, while we verified the work and paid the bill. That worked exceptionally well,” he said.

It worked so well, and they saved so much money, CSE leveraged the remaining budget to progress further on the project and focus on sustainment.

“We were only mandated to complete the construction of the facility and turn it over to the Russians to operate,” he said. “But the money saved allowed us to provide technical support for operations from 2009 to 2013.”

Crow said it was rewarding to lead the project through its evolution and to completion.

“It was neat to be at the nexus of important national policy and actually see something get built, then operate and watch the shells spill out the backside of the destruction building and become big piles of steel that would go off to salvage yards,” he said. “It was a remarkable project that I’m still proud I was a part of.”

CSE remains postured to support the security, elimination, and disposition of chemical weapon stockpiles, delivery systems, components, materials, equipment, infrastructure, and technology.

For more information on the Chemical Security and Elimination and other DTRA programs, visit www.dtra.mil.