Russian Federation Calls Statement Irresponsible, Threatening
The Security Council met today to discuss a letter written by the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom to the President of the Security Council, which outlined a nerve-agent attack against Sergei Skripal and his daughter that had left them both in critical condition.
In the letter dated 13 March from the Charge d’Affaires a.i. of the Permanent Mission of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland to the United Nations addressed to the President of the Security Council, Theresa May noted that the police had conducted a thorough investigation, and her Government believed that it was “highly likely” the Russian Federation was responsible for the attack.
The representative of the United Kingdom, outlining the events of 4 March, said that Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia Skripal had been found in the centre of Salisbury, “slipping in and out of consciousness”. According to investigations by experts accredited by the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), they had been exposed to the nerve agent Novichok. That agent, he noted, was a military‑grade weapon of the type developed by the Soviet Union. As the Russian Federation had a track record of conducting State‑sponsored assassinations, including that of Alexander Litvinenko in 2006, his Government had concluded that either the attack had been carried out by Moscow or that it had lost control over the use of the nerve agent.
When his Government had notified OPCW that a chemical attack had taken place, the Russian Federation had argued that the United Kingdom was not abiding by article 9 of the Convention on the Prohibition of the Development, Production, Stockpiling and Use of Chemical Weapons and on their Destruction. But it was the Russian Federation that was not complying, he said. Moscow had completed its destruction of its declared stockpile of chemical weapons in 2017, but had not declared Novichok agents or production facilities.
The Russian Federation’s delegate emphasized that the letter from the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom not only contained irresponsible statements, but also threatened a sovereign State. That communication further noted that the Russian Federation had something to do with the use of toxic agents in Salisbury and had given Moscow 24 hours to admit to the crime. His country, he said, did not speak the language of ultimatums.
There was no scientific research or development of Novichok being carried out by Moscow, he said. In 1992 in the Russian Federation, Soviet developmental work had been stopped, and in 2017 it had completed the destruction of all existing stocks of chemical weapons. The most probable source of the nerve agent would be a country that had carried out research on those weapons, including the United Kingdom. He underscored that there were many countries the incident could benefit, but the Russian Federation was not one of them. The man who had been attacked was no threat to Moscow, but was a perfect victim that could justify any kind of dirt to tarnish Russia.
The delegate of the United States underscored it was her belief that the Russian Federation was responsible for the attack, linking it to an alarming increase in the global use of chemical weapons. She highlighted that the Bashar al‑Assad regime in Syria was continuing to kill its own people using such weapons. The Russian Federation had worked to shield Assad by ending the Joint Investigative Mechanism that had been set up to examine the use of such weapons. She warned that, if measures were not taken regarding the attack in Salisbury, it would be followed by others in places like New York, or in the cities of any Council member.
Echoing those sentiments, the representative of France said that the re‑emergence of chemical weapons had been seen in Syria, as well as in other areas of the Middle East and Asia, and that fact could not be tolerated. Its use undermined the international non‑proliferation architecture that had been established, he said. On the attack in Salisbury, he emphasized that his country would never accept impunity for those who used or developed toxic agents.
The representative of Kazakhstan, while noting that his country believed that all weapons of mass destruction were immoral and contrary to the principles of humanity, urged the Council to exercise caution when drawing conclusions regarding the Salisbury attack. The issue was politically sensitive, he noted, and credible and convincing facts from the ground should be examined. Both the United Kingdom and the Russian Federation should be able to resolve the dispute between them for the benefit of global stability, he said.
Also speaking were the representatives of Kuwait, Equatorial Guinea, Poland, Peru, Sweden, Côte d’Ivoire, Bolivia, Ethiopia, China and the Netherlands.
The meeting began at 3:24 p.m. and ended at 4:32 p.m.
JONATHAN GUY ALLEN (United Kingdom) said that, on Sunday 4 March, Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia Skripal had been found in the town centre of Salisbury, slipping in and out of consciousness on a public bench. They had been taken to a hospital and remained there in serious condition. Investigations by world‑leading experts that were accredited by the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) had discovered that the two had been exposed to a nerve agent. A police officer who had also been exposed remained in serious condition. Hundreds of British citizens had potentially been exposed to that nerve agent. Thorough investigations concluded that Mr. Skripal and his daughter had been exposed to Novichok, a military‑grade nerve agent of a type developed by the Soviet Union. That was not a weapon that could be developed by non‑State actors. Based on the knowledge that the Russian Federation had a record of conducting State‑sponsored assassinations, the Government of the United Kingdom had concluded that Moscow was responsible. Either it had been a direct attack, or the Russian Federation had lost control of a military‑grade nerve agent. Without the requested explanation from that country, his Government had concluded that the Russian Federation was responsible for the attempted murder of three people.
The United Kingdom was proud to have been one of the States that had drafted the Convention on the Prohibition of the Development, Production, Stockpiling and Use of Chemical Weapons and on their Destruction, and he said he was dismayed that the Russian Federation had suggested that his Government’s response failed to meet the requirements of the Convention. It was an attack on the soil of the United Kingdom and, under the Convention, his country had a right to lead the response. On 8 March his Government had notified OPCW that a chemical attack had taken place, and the Russian Federation had complained that the United Kingdom was not using article 9 of the Convention. On the contrary, he said, it was the Russian Federation that was not complying. The United Kingdom had also welcomed the offer of assistance from the Director-General of OPCW. Part of the Convention required States to declare any chemical-weapons‑producing facilities. The Russian Federation had completed its destruction of its declared stockpile, but had not declared Novichok agents or production facilities, as was required to do under the Convention. The reckless act in Salisbury had been carried out by those who disregarded the sanctity of human life. They either did not care it could be traced back to them, or mistakenly believed they could cover their tracks. The Russian Federation had a history of State‑sponsored assassination, including that of Alexander Litvinenko in 2006. The United Kingdom had carried out a careful investigation that continued and was asking OPCW to independently verify that. He had no disagreement with the people of Russia; it was the reckless acts of their Government that it opposed.
NIKKI R. HALEY (United States) said her country stood in solidarity with the United Kingdom. The United States believed that the Russian Federation was responsible for the attack. The crime alone was worthy of the Council’s attention, but it was not an isolated incident. It was part of an alarming increase in the use of chemical weapons. In Syria, the Bashar al‑Assad regime continued to kill its own people using chemical weapons. The Council had created a mechanism to investigate chemical weapons attacks, which had been targeted when it began to shine a spotlight on Assad’s role in the killing of his own people. The Russian Federation had failed to ensure Syria destroyed its chemical weapons programme, and had also killed the OPCW‑United Nations Joint Investigative Mechanism. The Russian Federation had used its veto to shield Assad five times in 2017. The Russian Federation must cooperate with the United Kingdom’s investigation and come clean about its chemical weapons programme. If measures were not taken, Salisbury would not be the last place for such an attack. Those weapons would be used in New York or in cities of any Council member. The credibility of the Council would not survive if it failed to hold the Russian Federation accountable.
FRANÇOIS DELATTRE (France) renewed his country’s support to the United Kingdom, expressed a day earlier by its President, who condemned the attack unreservedly. He also attached great importance to the rule of law, as well as the principles of peace and security for which the Council was guarantor. “Let’s be clear” on the attempted assassination using a toxic military‑grade nerve agent, which had exposed civilians to risk: The United Kingdom Prime Minister had stated that the Russian Federation was responsible. He expressed full confidence in the United Kingdom investigation to shed light on the use of that chemical weapon. The perpetrators must be identified and prosecuted, with responses provided to the United Kingdom’s legitimate questions. The chemical weapons ban was at heart of the non‑proliferation regime, a foundation for collective security. The re‑emergence of those deadly weapons, as seen in Syria, as well as in other areas of the Middle East, Asia and now in Europe, could not be tolerated. It undermined the non‑proliferation architecture and called into question the principle of strategic security. A substance, never declared to OPCW, had been used in a European country. “France will never accept impunity for those who use or develop toxic agents,” he said.
MANSOUR AYYAD SH. A. ALOTAIBI (Kuwait) said that, whatever the wording of the agenda item, the issue before the Council today was a true danger. He condemned the production and use of chemical weapons, stockpiling and transport, either directly or indirectly. Citing article 1 of the Chemical Weapons Convention, he called on countries that had ratified that accord to adhere to it and end their stockpiling of such arms. He voiced support for the United Kingdom’s right to investigate the attack and take all necessary measures in that regard. Those with special responsibility in maintaining peace and security, especially, must act in line with the United Nations Charter, and take sincere steps to build a world free of weapons of mass destruction, he said, citing resolution 2325 (2016) in that regard.
ANATOLIO NDONG MBA (Equatorial Guinea) said his country had learned of the incident and hoped that such events would be investigated and those responsible would face justice. On the accusations of the involvement of the Russian Federation, he hoped that both parties would be able to resolve the situation through direct contact and by fully clarifying the facts. He recommended that, whilst the investigation was being carried out, both parties should show moderation, and he invited them to cooperate in the investigations to shed light on the situation. He appreciated the invitation of the United Kingdom to invite independent experts to carry out the analyses to explain the situation. His country was against the production and use of any chemical weapons.
JOANNA WRONECKA (Poland) said she was concerned over the use of a nerve agent in a murder attempt that had endangered the lives of innocent civilians. She condemned the attack on the territory of the United Kingdom, which was the first of its kind in Europe after the Second World War. After the continued use of chemical weapons in Syria, it was another violation of international law and a violation of the prohibition on the use of chemical weapons. She expressed her solidarity with the British people and Government, and called on the Russian Federation to address the questions of the United Kingdom and to cooperate with OPCW in that regard. There was no place for impunity, and those responsible for the use of chemical weapons must be held accountable.
GUSTAVO MEZA-CUADRA (Peru) said that, in line with the United Nations Charter’s Chapter VI, it was important that the Council was informed of issues that could lead to an international dispute. Chemical weapons use threatened international peace and security, and violated the non‑proliferation regime. He voiced grave concern at a nerve agent use in a public space, expressing solidarity with the victims. The incident must be investigated in the framework of the rule of law and due process, while the parties involved must fully cooperate in an investigation that would determine those responsible and any applicable sanctions. He urged that communication channels remain open to resolve the situation.
OLOF SKOOG (Sweden) condemned in the strongest terms the attempted murder on United Kingdom soil using a nerve agent. Stressing the seriousness of that incident, which was unprecedented in Europe in recent years, he said those responsible must be identified and held to account. He voiced support for the United Kingdom’s decision to bring the issue to the attention of the Council and OPCW. Noting that the Prime Minister’s letter stated that the class of chemical warfare agents used had originally been developed by the Soviet Union and inherited by the Russian Federation, he said that, given the principal victim’s background, he supported the request that the Russian Federation provide an account of how the agent could have been deployed in Salisbury. “These cruel and illegal weapons kill indiscriminately and have no place in the world,” he stressed.
BERNARD TANOH-BOUTCHOUE (Côte d'Ivoire) said he had learned with great distress of the attack in Salisbury. He expressed his solidarity with the authorities of the United Kingdom and wished full and speedy recovery to those contaminated by the attack. He condemned any use of chemical weapons in any form, and requested that all possible light be shed on the event that took place.
KAIRAT UMAROV (Kazakhstan) said his country believed that all weapons of mass destruction should be condemned as immoral and contrary to the principles of humanity. It was impermissible to use chemical agents. However, since the issue at hand was politically sensitive, the Council should exercise caution in drawing conclusions without credible and convincing facts on the ground. A response should be taken only after transparent investigations in accordance with international law. He hoped the two parties would be able to resolve disputes between them for the benefit of global stability.
PEDRO LUIS INCHAUSTE JORDÁN (Bolivia) condemned chemical weapons use, including in Salisbury, calling it “unjustifiable and criminal”. Their use posed a serious threat to international peace and security, and he voiced hope for a complete investigation through competent bodies.
TEKEDA ALEMU (Ethiopia) expressed sympathy and solidarity with the families of victims of the nerve-agent attack in Salisbury and with the United Kingdom. Strongly condemning any chemical weapons use by any State or non‑State actor, he said such acts were a serious breach of international law. He voiced hope that an independent investigation would be conducted, and vetted, on the Salisbury incident, including by holding consultations on the basis of the Chemical Weapons Convention, with a view to bringing the perpetrators to justice. He encouraged good-faith cooperation between United Kingdom and the Russian Federation, which was critical to ensuring that the issue did not get out of hand. Given the United Kingdom’s justified concern, he hoped all concerned would fully cooperate and that the matter would be handled in a fair manner.
ZHAOXU MA (China) said he had taken note of statements by relevant countries on the incident, expressing hope that an impartial investigation would be held, based on facts and relevant international rules, and that it would lead to an evidence‑based conclusion that could stand the test of history. He expressed hope that relevant authorities could properly handle the issue through the proper channels.
VASSILY A. NEBENZIA (Russian Federation) said that, after Prime Minister Theresa May had sent a letter to the President of the Security Council, the United Kingdom had requested that closed consultations be held. It was the Russian Federation that had asked for the format to be changed to an open briefing, so that everyone could see what was happening. The letter contained irresponsible statements. It contained threats to a sovereign State and a member of the Council, which was at variance with international law. The United Kingdom ignored the procedures in line with international commitments. The matter was being dragged into the Council while the real experts were in The Hague, and those experts would not be convinced. The letter stated that the Russian Federation had something to do with the use of toxic agents in Salisbury. His country had been given 24 hours to admit that it had committed a crime. His country did not speak the language of ultimatums, and would not be spoken to in that language. It had sent a note to the United Kingdom Foreign Office, asking for samples and for a joint investigation. He had seen today the announcement that Russian diplomats were being expelled and bilateral relations were being frozen. The authorities of the United Kingdom were interested in finding the truth last and were guided by something else. They were using propaganda to influence the public.
In the Russian Federation, there was no scientific research or development work under the title Novichok, he continued. Since the beginning of the 1970s, other countries had implemented programmes to create chemical weapons, in particular the United States and the Soviet Union. In 1992 in the Russian Federation, Soviet developmental work had been stopped, and in 2017 it had completed the destruction of all existing stocks of chemical weapons. The United States had not to date destroyed their chemical stockpile. The most probable source was countries that, since the end of the 1990s, had been carrying out research on such weapons, including the United Kingdom.
It was no longer necessary to have test tubes filled with white substance to show the Council, it was enough to send a letter, he said. He said that, in jurisprudence and in life, there was a principle: look for those for whose benefit something was being done. There were many countries that the incident could benefit, which he would not name. The man who had been attacked had served his sentence, had been pardoned and then given to the British, and was no threat to the Russian Federation. But he was a perfect victim that could justify any kind of dirt tarnishing Russia. He called on the officials of the United Kingdom to give up on their imperial practices, which belonged in the nineteenth century. His country had nothing to do with the incident, and the ultimatum from London was something that it could not pay attention to and that he considered null and void. He expected that the United Kingdom should act in strict adherence to the Convention on Chemical Weapons and would provide samples of the substances for joint investigation, as it was saying that it was Russian in origin. That was not optional; it was mandatory under the Convention.
KAREL J.G. VAN OOSTEROM (Netherlands), Council President for March, spoke in his national capacity, saying his country was shocked by the poisoning of Mr. Skripal and his daughter. It fully understood the outrage of the United Kingdom authorities. “The recklessness of this act is beyond words,” he said, emphasizing that any use of chemical weapons was abhorrent and that the incident should be a matter of concern for the Security Council. On the heels of chemical weapons attacks in Syria, the incident in Salisbury was another warning to step up vigilance to prevent the use of weapons of mass destruction. There could be no impunity, he said, conveying his Government’s support for the United Kingdom’s “quest for truth”. He went on to say that there was no legitimate reason why anyone should try to delay, sidetrack, second‑guess or discredit that investigation.
The representative of the United Kingdom, responding to his Russian counterpart, asked rhetorically whether the Council was the forum where countries came when there had been an unlawful attack on them. “We believe in the international rules‑based system,” he said. “We want the Council to work together to resolve conflict”, and his Government would work with the Russian Federation to achieve those aims. He had laid out how the Chemical Weapons Convention worked, notably its article 9, under which the United Kingdom had asked the Russian Federation for an explanation. The response had been that the Russian Federation considered that request to be null and void. The United Kingdom had asked OPCW to provide an independent verification of its analysis. There were no provisions requiring the United Kingdom to share samples collected as part of the criminal investigation, he said, adding however that they could be shared with inspected State parties, which the Russian Federation was not. A typical Russian tactic was to distract and mire in procedural delay, as seen in the 2006 Litvinenko case, after which the United Kingdom had waited in vain for the Russian Federation to extradite the suspects. It would not do so again. He concluded by quoting then Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, who in 2010 had stated: “Traitors will kick the bucket. Believe me.”
The representative of the Russian Federation said his country had not received a proper request in line with the Chemical Weapons Convention, for which it was ready. Instead, it had been given a 24‑hour ultimatum. “This is the format in which we will not respond” to unsubstantiated claims, he said, underscoring that his country was ready to cooperate with the United Kingdom in investigating the incident.