July 17, 2021 | The Hill

Putin escapes accountability for chemical weapons use

Vladimir Putin is the target of an unusual form of punishment. He reportedly maintains a program for assassinating dissidents with chemical agents, yet top European leaders cannot wait to embrace the former spy in a bear hug of engagement and recognition. Following his June summit with the Russian leader, Joe Biden spoke of Putin in sympathetic terms, despite claiming to have warned him about his provocative behavior. Such warnings ring hollow as Western leaders again allowed Putin to avoid accountability at last week’s meeting of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW).

The Hague-based OPCW has been busy with its investigation into Syria’s repeated use of chemical weapons against civilians and debunking both Russian and Syrian claims that the Bashar al-Assad regime dismantled its chemical weapons program in 2014. Assad has benefited from Putin’s support for Damascus at the OPCW, because Putin knows that if the OPCW cannot hold a lesser rogue state like Syria accountable, then it will never challenge Moscow.

However, Putin’s defenses began to crack when the OPCW voted in April to revoke Damascus’s voting rights and privileges at the organization. The decision drew strength from a rare bipartisan consensus in the United States — the Trump administration initiated the OPCW accountability process in July 2020 and the Biden administration successfully finished it in April 2021.

Anthony Ruggiero is a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, where Andrea Stricker is a research fellow. Follow them on Twitter @NatSecAnthony and @StrickerNonpro. FDD (@FDD) is a nonpartisan think tank focused on foreign policy and national security issues.


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