November 2, 2021 | The Hill

Putting chemical weapons questions to Russia backfired


Russia poisoned Alexei Navalny with a nerve agent more than a year ago. The United States and its allies responded at a recent meeting of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) by presenting Moscow with a weak set of questions about the incident. Russian president Vladimir Putin must have laughed at his good fortune; this academic exercise, spearheaded by United Kingdom and supported by the Biden administration, will not hold Moscow accountable for its behavior.

The OPCW met in The Hague in October to enforce the 1993 Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC), which has an explicit goal of eliminating chemical weapons. The Executive Council, the organization’s 41-member policymaking body, did not take any formal action against Russia, even though it was the body’s fifth meeting since Navalny’s poisoning.

In August 2020, Navalny fell ill on a flight within Russia and was eventually medevacked to Germany. Several laboratories, including those used by the OPCW, confirmed the presence of a chemical nerve agent, Novichok, in his system. The Soviet Union is the only country known to have developed Novichok. Moscow in 2017 claimed it dismantled its inherited stocks of chemical weapons, but there is ample evidence to suggest otherwise.

Anthony Ruggiero is a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD), where Andrea Stricker is a research fellow. Follow the authors on Twitter @NatSecAnthony and @StrickerNonpro. FDD is a Washington, D.C.-based, nonpartisan research institute focusing on national security and foreign policy.


International Organizations Nonproliferation Russia