Russia Refuses to Fund Chemical Weapons Watchdog – Is Russia Planning to Use Novichok Again?

  • Russia officially refused to finance the operations of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW).
  • The Novichok group of weapons were added to the banned list, which will come into force in 180 days.
  • Russia did not have enough power to veto the next OPCW budget.

On November 28, 2019 Russia officially refused to finance the operations of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW)– an intergovernmental organization and the implementing body of the Chemical Weapons Convention, which entered into force on April 29, 1997. The OPCW, with its 193 member states, has its seat in The Hague, Netherlands, and oversees the global endeavor for the permanent and verifiable elimination of chemical weapons.

The reason behind the announcement according to Russian representative Alexander Shuligin is the US accusation against Russia of helping Syria conceal the use of chemical weapons in the Syrian civil war and by undermining the work of the OPCW in the region. Additionally, Russia reached a high level of diplomatic tensions in 2017 due to Syria and vetoed a resolution to extend the mandate of the U.N.-OPCW Joint Investigative Mechanism. The concussion was made that the Syrian military used both the nerve agent Sarin and chlorine as weapons by the OPCW.

The OPCW has the power to say whether chemical weapons were used in an attack it has investigated. In June 2018, it granted itself new powers to assign blame for attacks.

The announcement came during the OPCW 24th annual conference taking place this week. Additionally, as the 2020 budget voting took place, Russia with 19 other delegations voted against– out of 125 member nations present (17 delegations refused to vote and 11 were absent).

Russia is not keen on the spending and how the organization provides consensus on the parties involved in chemical attacks and guilty verdicts. Also, so much power was given to the OPCW in 2018 that Russia believes it is illegitimate and infringes on the UN mandate. Ironically, Russia announced earlier this month that it would no longer enforce part of Geneva Convention.

Thus far the main reasons given for the Kremlin’s unhappiness with OPCW:

1) Russia found to be responsible for the cover up of the Assad’s regime using chemical weapons in 2017.

2) Displeasure with the November 27, 2019 announcement of a group of nerve agents known as Novichoks to be added to the Chemical Weapons Conventions list of banned substances, as nations have approved the first major changes to the treaty since it was first agreed in the 1990s.

The update to the treaty, which will come into force in six months, was initiated by the US, Canada and the Netherlands. Novichok came into the spotlight last year, due to the attack on Skripals in Salisbury UK. Both a Bellingcat investigation and the UK government concluded Novichok was used in the attack by GRU officers (The Main Directorate of the General Staff of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation, abbreviated G.U., formerly the Main Intelligence Directorate).

Novichok  was developed by the Soviets in the 1970s with higher potency than its predecessors VX and Sarin poison gasses. Novichok ingredients still remain classified and to this day have never been disclosed to the OPCW. During the Cold War era, the Soviets and US had the largest chemical weapons development programs. Novichok causes horrid death by slowing of the heart and restriction of the airways, leading to death by asphyxiation.  More than likely the ingredients used to make Novichok are not globally banned, hence its danger. Chemical weaponization is prohibited under the 1997 Chemical Weapons Convention, which Russia is signatory.

Russia only paid its partial share to the OPCW for the upcoming year. It is plausible to believe Russia will withdraw from the OPCW in the next year. Russia has been slowly leaving nuclear treaties and the Geneva Convention. Will OPCW be next and what does it mean to global security?

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Christina Kitova

I spent most of my professional life in finance, insurance risk management litigation.

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