Russia Loses Vote By Chemical-Weapons Watchdog Over New U.K. Poisoning Probe
RFE/RL April 04, 2018
Russia has lost a vote by the global chemical weapons watchdog for a new joint investigation, including Russian participation, into a nerve-agent attack against a former Russian spy in England, a diplomatic source has told Reuters.
Moscow, accused by the British government of carrying out the attack, had been seeking a new joint investigation by the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) into the March 4 poisoning of Sergei Skripal and his daughter in Salisbury.
Reuters reports that China, Azerbaijan, Sudan, Algeria, and Iran backed the Russian motion at the OPCW's April 4 closed-door meeting, while 17 members abstained.
Russian state-run news agency TASS also reported that Russia lost the vote. In view of the results, TASS reported that Moscow on April 4 was calling for an open session of the UN Security Council to discuss the matter.
Britain's delegation to the OPCW dismissed Moscow's proposal for a joint British-Russian investigation into the poisonings as "perverse."
"It is a diversionary tactic, and yet more disinformation designed to evade the questions the Russian authorities must answer," the British delegation said in a tweet during the meeting.
In a statement read out at the session, the European Union said it was "imperative" that Russia "responds to the British government's legitimate questions, begins to cooperate with the OPCW Secretariat, and provides full and complete disclosure to the OPCW."
In Berlin, a German government spokeswoman said it continued to "share Britain's view that there is a high likelihood that Russia is behind" the attack. "Nothing has changed," Ulrike Demmer said.
Russia's envoy to the international chemical weapons watchdog charged after the April 4 meeting that Britain's work with the agency on the case has not been transparent.
Alexander Shulgin said: "Russia as well as other states that are members of the executive committee have been pushed aside from this investigation."
"They tell us that they can inform us of the results of this investigation...only with the goodwill of Great Britain," Shulgin said. "But, knowing how our so-called partners have conducted themselves, we are not going to count on their goodwill."
Britain has accused Russia of using a nerve agent to poison Skripal, 66, and his 33-year-old daughter, Yulia, who were hospitalized in critical condition after being found collapsed on a bench in the southern city of Salisbury on March 4.
OPCW experts have taken samples from the site and sent them to certified laboratories for analysis, but are still awaiting the results.
Russian President Vladimir Putin on April 3 said he hoped the OPCW meeting would help to defuse a major diplomatic row that arose over the poisoning.
Britain, the United States, two dozen other countries, and NATO have expelled a total of more than 150 Russian diplomats in response to the poisoning, and Moscow responded in kind. On April 4, Russia's Foreign Ministry said it was expelling one Hungarian Embassy staff member in response to Budapest's decision to expel a Russian diplomat.
Putin -- seizing on a statement by a British laboratory head who told reporters the "precise source" of the nerve agent had not yet been determined – accused Britain and other Western countries of rushing to blame Moscow without sufficient evidence.
The chief executive of Britain's defense laboratory at Porton Down, Gary Aitkenhead, said in an interview with Sky News on April 3 that scientists "have not verified the precise source" of the weapons-grade Novichok used in the attack because it was not the laboratory's job to say where the poison was produced.
But he also said that an attack with such a highly toxic chemical weapon was "probably only within the capabilities of a state actor," and there was no possibility that Porton Down was involved.
"It's our job to provide the scientific evidence that identifies what the particular nerve agent is," he said. "But it's not our job to say where that was actually manufactured."
Aitkenhead told Sky News that the British government's conclusion it was "highly likely" that Russia was behind the poisonings was made after his lab concluded that Novichok, a nerve agent Moscow developed during the Cold War, was used.
He said his Porton Down laboratory "provided the scientific information to the government, who have then used a number of other sources to piece together the conclusions that they have come to."
Russia has charged that the Porton Down facility could have made the Novichok.
Speaking during a visit to Ankara, Putin said the British official's statement showed the need for an international investigation into the poisoning of the Skripals.
"We want a thorough investigation. We would like to take part in it, and we count on receiving relevant materials as the issue involves citizens of the Russian Federation," Putin said.
Putin repeated Russia's claim that the nerve agent could have been produced by some 20 nations using materials that are available on the open market.
Putin asserted that Aitkenhead's statement provided evidence that British accusations of Russian involvement in the poisoning -- which led to the West's expulsion of more than 150 Russian diplomatic staff over the incident -- were unfounded.
"The speed at which the anti-Russian campaign was launched causes bewilderment," said Putin, who responded to the Western expulsions by throwing a similar number of Western diplomatic staff out of Russia.
Putin's spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, said that, after Aitkenhead's statement, Britain should apologize for what he called "mad accusations" that "have no foundation whatsoever."
"The idiocy has gone too far," Peskov said.
The chief of Russia's foreign intelligence agency (SVR), Sergei Naryshkin, claimed at a security conference in Moscow on April 4 that the Skripal case was a "grotesque provocation" staged by U.S. and British security services.
'Brazen' And 'Reckless' Act
A U.K. government spokesman said on April 3 that London's conclusion that Russia was behind the poisonings was based in part on Russia's history of investigating ways to use nerve agents in assassinations, its record of state-sponsored assassinations, its stockpile of small quantities of Novichok, and its previous targeting of former Russian intelligence officers.
"It is our assessment that Russia was responsible for this brazen and reckless act and, as the international community agrees, there is no other plausible explanation," the spokesman said.
Yury Filatov, Russia's ambassador to Ireland, said Moscow was demanding that Britain provide "every possible element of evidence" it has on the poisonings at the OPCW meeting on April 4.
If the United Kingdom does not show more evidence, he said, "there are ample grounds to assume that we are dealing with a grand scale provocation organized in London aimed to discredit Russia."
Sergei Skripal remained hospitalized in critical condition on April 3, while Yulia Skripal's condition has improved.
Skripal was a colonel in Russia's military intelligence agency until he was arrested and charged with spying for Britain.
He was released in a 2010 spy swap and moved to Britain.
With reporting by Sky News, Reuters, AP, AFP, TASS, and Interfax
Copyright (c) 2018. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036.
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