May 25, 2023 | Policy Brief

Russia and Partners Block Condemnation of Chemical Weapons Treaty Violations

May 25, 2023 | Policy Brief

Russia and Partners Block Condemnation of Chemical Weapons Treaty Violations

The Hague-based Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) held its fifth review conference last week to assess implementation of the 1993 Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) and set priorities for the CWC’s next five years. The conference issued no final document because Russia and a small minority of member states prevented OPCW member states from including language that candidly addressed Russian and Syrian use of chemical weapons.

Moscow and its bloc in the OPCW — which includes China, Iran, Syria, Cuba, and a handful of others — rejected language in the draft document underscoring Russia’s and Syria’s CWC violations as well as other disputed issues. Ambassador Joseph Manso, U.S. permanent representative to the OPCW, told Agence France-Presse, “Our Russian colleagues were not so flexible.”

Though the Russian-led bloc, as well as one other nation, blocked FDD from participating in the conference, the author traveled to the Hague to participate in conference-related events and meetings. FDD learned from officials close to the OPCW that Russia and its partners objected to nearly three dozen of more than 200 paragraphs in the draft document. These paragraphs addressed the Syrian regime’s documented chemical weapons attacks against its own people since 2013 and the work of the OPCW’s Investigation and Identification Team, established by member states in 2018 to identify perpetrators of those attacks.

Russia and its bloc also objected to references regarding Moscow’s stockpiling of the banned nerve agent Novichok, which the Kremlin used in assassination attempts in the United Kingdom in 2018 and against Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny in 2020. In addition, the bloc rejected language referencing the OPCW’s decision on the use of central nervous system-acting chemicals for law enforcement purposes, adopted by the OPCW in 2021.

The U.S. State Department said on Saturday, “The Russian Federation repeatedly obstructed [efforts] to negotiate in good faith.” It added, “More than 70 delegations, including the United States, joined a statement pledging to advance a positive agenda” for the OPCW. Russia’s deputy prime minister, Sergei Ryabkov, retorted that the conference outcome represented “military-political score-settling” by America and its Euro-Atlantic allies.

Russia has made clear that it will disrupt the work of key international organizations when countries call out Moscow’s violations of the international treaties and conventions to which it is a state party. At last year’s Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty review conference, Russia blocked the conference’s draft document denouncing Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine and occupation and shelling of Kyiv’s nuclear plants.

It is past time for Washington to lead OPCW member states in sidelining Russia at the OPCW, where it has long been a disruptor and non-compliant member state while shielding Syria from penalties for Damascus’ own violations and delegitimizing the OPCW’s work.

At the next meeting of the OPCW’s Executive Council (EC), which takes place in July, member states should set a 90-day deadline for Russia to demonstrate compliance with the CWC. If Moscow fails to meet the deadline, the subsequent EC meeting, scheduled for the fall, should recommend suspending Russia’s OPCW voting rights and privileges. The all-member OPCW Conference of States Parties can finalize the motion by winter of this year.

The OPCW suspended Syria from the organization in 2021, and with Damascus sidelined, the organization’s functioning has improved demonstrably. Moreover, OPCW member states should not set a precedent whereby countries remain OPCW member states in good standing while they are in violation of the CWC.

The United States and its partners, which worked hard for a positive outcome at the OPCW review conference, must show Russia that there are consequences for its disruption.

Andrea Stricker is a research fellow and deputy director of the nonproliferation and biodefense program at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD). For more analysis from Andrea and FDD please subscribe HERE. Follow Andrea on Twitter @StrickerNonpro. Follow FDD on Twitter @FDD. FDD is a Washington, DC-based, nonpartisan research institute focused on national security and foreign policy.


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