- 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.
- 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
- 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.