The Security Council met this afternoon for the second time in less than a month to discuss a nerve-agent attack against Sergei Skripal and his daughter in the British city of Salisbury in March, with the representative of the Russian Federation — which had requested the meeting — saying the United Kingdom was engaged in “a theatre of the absurd” by seeking to pin responsibility on his country.
Responding, the United Kingdom’s representative reaffirmed her Government’s position that it was highly likely that the Russian Federation was involved in the attack. She went on to say that the Russian Federation was playing “fast and loose” with the world’s collective security while failing to cooperate with an ongoing investigation.
Council members heard updates on an investigation into the 4 March poisoning of Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia Skripal, which the United Kingdom had said involved the use of a class of chemical warfare agents known as Novichok. Today’s meeting came a day after the Executive Council of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) had met in The Hague, failing to agree on a proposed joint Russian Federation-United Kingdom investigation into the incident, which Member States have described as a violation of the Convention on the Prohibition of the Development, Production, Stockpiling and Use of Chemical Weapons and of Their Destruction, known as the Chemical Weapons Convention. The Council had previously met to discuss the matter on 14 March. (See Press Release SC/13247.)
The representative of the United Kingdom, updating the Council on her country’s ongoing police investigation, said it was highly likely that the Russian Federation had carried out the assassination attempt, with experts having positively identified the chemical substance used. She went on to note that, on 21 March, OPCW had deployed a team to Salisbury and collected samples, which were sent to several designated laboratories for testing. The United Kingdom would share those findings once a report was made available. Meanwhile, the Russian Federation had reverted to a familiar path of attempting to undermine the international institution responsible for the investigation, having attempted to discredit the OPCW-United Nations Joint Investigative Mechanism and its work in Syria.
The Russian Federation’s representative said the United Kingdom authorities were coming up with several versions of what had transpired in Salisbury. Raising a raft of questions, he asserted that the Russian Federation was not responsible and that Moscow expected both answers and full cooperation from the United Kingdom, as well as consular access to the Skripals. Furthermore, the origin of the substance used in Salisbury had not been confirmed, yet people were demanding that the Russian Federation acknowledged its guilt. A crime had been committed on British soil, and perhaps also a terrorist act on a Russian citizen, he said, adding that a draft statement from his delegation for the Council’s consideration would be a litmus test as to whether the United Kingdom and its allies were true to their words.
The representative of the United States, one of several Council members to voice support for the United Kingdom’s position, said today’s meeting was an attempt by the Russian Federation to use the Council for political gains. Either the Russian Federation had used a chemical weapon in the Salisbury attack or it had failed to declare its stocks of nerve agents. While the international community had come together to express its outrage, the Russian Federation was putting forward a series of conspiracy theories amounting to disinformation.
In the same vein, France’s delegate said the prohibition of chemical weapons was a bedrock of the non-proliferation regime and that their re-emergence in the Middle East, Asia and now Europe could not be tolerated. The trivialization of chemical weapons would represent a victory of barbarity over civilization, as well as a setback against the international order, opening the door to the spectre of chemical terrorism. France would never allow impunity for those who used such weapons, he said, adding that the Russian Federation must be part of the solution and immediately act responsibly.
Several speakers appealed for cooperation, including China’s delegate, who said relevant issues should be addressed within the framework of the Chemical Weapons Convention. Emphasizing that the truth must be determined as soon as possible, he urged the countries concerned to undertake consultations, avoid politicization and actions that would aggravate the situation, and handle the issue through dialogue. At a time when the international community faced a plethora of issues, countries must avoid a cold war mentality and devote their efforts to building mutual respect and win-win cooperation, he added.
Bolivia’s representative, rejecting the use of chemical agents as weapons, likewise reiterated the need for a depoliticized investigation. Cooperation between relevant parties through diplomatic channels was essential to resolve the matter, as well as to strengthen the disarmament regime.
Also speaking today were representatives of Ethiopia, Kazakhstan, Sweden, Poland, Kuwait, Equatorial Guinea, Netherlands, Côte d’Ivoire and Peru.
The meeting began at 3:09 p.m. and ended at 4:48 p.m.
VASSILY A. NEBENZIA (Russian Federation) said a month had passed since Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia Skripal, both Russian citizens, had been found unconscious in Salisbury. According to the United Kingdom, the Russian Federation had decided to eliminate Mr. Skripal. Wondering why the Russian Federation would want to do that, eight years after Mr. Skripal had been granted amnesty and before the Russian presidential elections and the 2018 World Cup, he noted that those who had sought to kill the Skripals with a highly toxic substance did not really finish the job, as both were still alive and Ms. Skripal was making a swift recovery.
From the outset, he said, such experts as United Kingdom Prime Minister Theresa May and Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson had unequivocally stated that the substance used was Novichok and that it was highly likely that it came from the Russian Federation. He wondered how, if that substance had been spread in the Skripal house or on the doorknob, the Skripals were still in a normal state a few hours later and had still survived, even as a police officer had immediately lost consciousness. The only explanation was that an antidote had been introduced into the Skripals immediately, he said. For that to have occurred, experts had said a sample of the toxic substance must have been nearby, he said, noting the short distance to Porton Down, a research centre well known for developing chemical weapons. The laboratory’s chief, Gary Aitkenhead, had said he could not confirm the toxic substance’s origin, thus invalidating the United Kingdom’s core argument and raising even more questions. Further, the Russian Federation did not have a copyright on Novichok, which was a term that had been invented in the West to describe a line of toxic substances that had been developed in many countries, including the United States and United Kingdom.
Referring to recent media reports, he said the situation was like “a theatre of the absurd” and wondered whether the United Kingdom could have come up with a better fake story. The Russian delegation had already told its United Kingdom colleagues that they were playing with fire and would be sorry. Politicians in the United Kingdom had no idea that their hyped-up statements might boomerang back at them. Turning to the expulsion of Russian diplomats by the United Kingdom and several of its allies, he called on the United States, as host country of the United Nations, to return Russian diplomatic property it had seized from the Permanent Mission of the Russian Federation to the United Nations in New York.
“We are witnessing truly remarkable events,” he continued, highlighting that United Kingdom authorities were trying to almost make fun of Russia, coming up with about 30 versions of what had happened. Wanting to get to the bottom of the dark story, his delegation had several questions, including: Where the Skripals had been for four hours with their mobile phones switched off, who could confirm the reliability of chemical samples taken, why relatives had not been asked for their consent to take blood samples, and how an antidote could have materialized so quickly? He also asked why the Skripals had not been given consular access.
In asking the United Kingdom about the investigation on 12 March, the Russian Federation was acting within the framework of the Convention on the Prohibition of the Development, Production, Stockpiling and Use of Chemical Weapons and of Their Destruction, known as the Chemical Weapons Convention, and that it would respond to a request from that country within 10 days. Instead, London had presented a 24-hour ultimatum, stating that either Russia carried out the attack or it had lost control of its chemical weapons.
He said his country had, at a special meeting of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) Executive Council, proposed a joint investigation, which had been blocked by the United Kingdom and its allies. Meanwhile, the Foreign Secretary continued to claim that the United Kingdom had sent the Russian Federation a list of questions, but Moscow had not yet received such a list. Moving forward, the Russian delegation would be sharing “very interesting information” with Council members, including translations of materials. Citing recent press statements, he said a slide show presented by the United Kingdom ambassador in Moscow had been an insult to intelligence. It was immoral for the Foreign Secretary to suggest that the Salisbury incident had intended to bring people together before the Russian elections or to compare the World Cup to the Berlin Olympics of 1936, and his statements about dead cats had been a distraction. On the latter, he wondered where the two cats and two guinea pigs in the Skripal’s house were now, as their condition would be an important piece of evidence.
Indeed, the world was living in an era of lost intellectual clarity, he said. The Russian Federation demanded answers and full cooperation. A coordinated, well-prepared campaign was under way with the clear goal to discredit and delegitimize the Russian Federation, accuse it of using a horrible and inhumane weapon in breach of the Chemical Weapons Convention, and thrusting into question its political legitimacy and its position vis-à-vis the Syrian chemical dossier.
The Russian Federation was not responsible for the attack in Salisbury, he said, reiterating his country’s demand for consular access to the Skripals. The origin of the substance used in Salisbury had not been confirmed, yet people were demanding that the Russian Federation acknowledged its guilt. A crime had been committed on British territory, and perhaps also a terrorist act on a Russian citizen. The Russian Federation was entitled to demand cooperation and the United Kingdom was obliged to provide it. Noting that his delegation had prepared a draft statement for the Council that would be a litmus test as to whether the United Kingdom and its allies were true to their words, he said rejecting that litmus test would be a confirmation of their dirty games.
KAREN PIERCE (United Kingdom) providing updates on the case, said that, following the incident, the Government had launched one of the most comprehensive and complex investigations into the use of chemical weapons ever, involving 250 police detectives, supported by a range of experts and partners that had gone through more than 5,000 hours of video footage and interviewed more than 500 witnesses. A military-grade nerve agent — a weapon of mass destruction — had been used in an attempt to kill civilians on British soil in a reckless fashion, she said. Noting that Yulia was now able to communicate and was getting better, she said the Government had received a request from the Russian consulate, conveyed it to Yulia and was now awaiting her response. Conveying that request was an obligation under international law that the British Government took very seriously.
She said that, on 12 March, the Government had posed a clear question to the Russian Government, but no response had been received. What had taken place was not a normal poisoning or attack, she said, emphasizing that the 24-hour deadline to respond to that request was reasonable given the severity of the situation. It was highly likely that the Russian Federation had carried out the assassination attempt, she said, noting that experts had made a positive identification of the special chemical used. The Russian Federation had looked into ways of carrying out assassinations through the use of nerve agents. Nevertheless, the Russian Federation had put forward innumerable theories about the events that had taken place. The use of chemical weapons on any country’s territory was far too serious for any such theories to hold water. Everything that had been done by the British Government was consistent with the Chemical Weapons Conventions.
On 21 March, OPCW had deployed a team to the scene of the incident in the United Kingdom and collected samples, which were sent to several designated laboratories for testing, she said. The United Kingdom looked forward to sharing those findings once a report was made available. The Russian Federation had reverted to a familiar path of attempting to undermine the international institution responsible for the investigation and had attempted to discredit the OPCW-United Nations Joint Investigative Mechanism and its work in Syria. The events in Salisbury and other places posed a serious challenge to the non-proliferation regime that had been constructed in response to the terrible events of the past. There was one country — the Russian Federation — that insisted on playing “fast and loose” with the world’s collective security and the international institutions designed to protect humanity.
KELLEY A. ECKELS-CURRIE (United States) said that today’s meeting was an attempt by the Russian Federation to use the Council for political gains. The United States supported the United Kingdom. Either the Russian Federation had used a chemical weapon in the Salisbury attack or had failed to declare its stocks of the nerve agents. The international community had come together to express its outrage and take action, while the Russian Federation continued to put forward a series of conspiracy theories, which amounted to disinformation. The Russian Federation was known to have developed military-grade nerve agents of the type that had been used in the Salisbury attack and had a history of using such weapons for political assassinations. The truth of the Russian Federation’s involvement in the attack remained and the international community should stand united behind that truth and hold those that used chemical weapons accountable.
TEKEDA ALEMU (Ethiopia), expressing sympathy for the victims of the Salisbury incident and solidarity with the people and Government of the United Kingdom, hoped an independent investigation would be conducted with a view to bringing those responsible to justice. In that regard, OPCW was the appropriate international body to clarify issues surrounding the case. In the meantime, all relevant parties must cooperate with that body and make every possible effort to resolve the matter in line with the Chemical Weapons Convention. The lack of trust and deterioration of relations among major Powers would only further undermine the rules-based international order. Only through cooperation would the Council be able to address such difficult issues.
FRANÇOIS DELATTRE (France) said his delegation shared the United Kingdom’s assessment that there was no other plausible explanation for the Salisbury attack than Russian responsibility. He said his country was surprised by the Russian Federation’s refusal to reply to the United Kingdom’s questions and called on it to shed light on who was responsible. He went on to emphasize that prohibiting chemical weapon use was a bedrock of the non-proliferation regime and that their re-emergence in the Middle East, Asia and now Europe could not be tolerated. The trivialization of chemical weapons would represent a victory of barbarity over civilization, as well as a setback against the international order, opening the door to the spectre of chemical terrorism. France would never allow impunity for those who used such weapons, he said, adding that the Russian Federation must be part of the solution and immediately act responsibly. Chemical weapons were an existential threat to all and the fight against weapons of mass destruction must again be a Council priority, with its members having an obligation to act together.
WU HAITAO (China), noting the absence of consensus at the OPCW Executive Council meeting, said his country was firmly opposed to the use of chemical weapons under any circumstance. Those who used them should be brought to justice. Relevant issues should be dealt with within the framework of the Chemical Weapons Convention. Emphasizing that the truth must be determined as soon as possible, he urged the countries concerned to undertake consultations, cooperate and avoid politicization and measures that would aggravate the situation, and handle the issue through dialogue. At a time when the international community faced a plethora of issues, countries must avoid a cold war mentality and devote their efforts to building mutual respect and win-win cooperation.
KAIRAT UMAROV (Kazakhstan) expected the publication of all concrete facts and evidence confirming the use of any type of weapons-grade chemical agents and the involvement of individuals, non-State actors or States, as well as a comprehensive, objective and impartial investigation in accordance with the existing norms of international law, based first and foremost on the provisions of the Chemical Weapons Convention. He expressed hope for the normalization of relations and a restoration of trust between the leading States, preservation of the integrity of OPCW, joint efforts to counter common threats to security and a renunciation of a bloc mentality.
CARL SKAU (Sweden), expressing strong solidarity with the United Kingdom and support for its ongoing investigation, said that country was cooperating with OPCW in full conformity with the Chemical Weapons Convention. Sweden looked forward to being kept informed about that investigation and called on the Russian Federation to answer questions the United Kingdom had posed. Underlining Sweden’s position against chemical weapons, he called for vigilance in efforts to ensure respect for the integrity of the ban on those arms.
PAWEL RADOMSKI (Poland), condemning the unprecedented attack, said his country had taken diplomatic steps to express full solidarity with the Government and people of the United Kingdom. Poland had always stood at the forefront of attempts to contain the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. Those responsible for using chemical weapons must be identified and punished. Any such act could not be left unanswered, since it undermined not only the basic sense of justice, but also undermined the non-proliferation regime. He expressed full confidence in the United Kingdom’s investigation and welcomed the ongoing OPCW cooperation.
MANSOUR AYYAD SH. A. ALOTAIBI (Kuwait) said it was truly unfortunate that the Security Council had met for two consecutive days to discuss the use of weapons of mass destruction in two different States. His delegation was deeply troubled by the challenges faced by the non-proliferation regime. Kuwait believed in the importance of complying with international law and international norms and in the maintenance of international peace and security.
PEDRO LUIS INCHAUSTE JORDÁN (Bolivia), rejecting the use of chemical agents as weapons, which was an unjustifiable and criminal act that violated international law, reiterated the need for a depoliticized investigation into the Salisbury attack in line with relevant international norms and laws. Cooperation between relevant parties through diplomatic channels was essential to resolve the matter, as well as strengthen the disarmament regime.
ANATOLIO NDONG MBA (Equatorial Guinea) expressed hope that current investigations would both shed light on the facts and be fair and commensurate with relevant international norms and procedures. He reiterated a desire that, as permanent members of the Council, the Russian Federation and the United Kingdom would set an example to the international community on the peaceful resolution of disputes. At a pivotal moment when international institutions were under constant attack, it was important the two members used their maturity and international political experience to handle the situation prudently, he said, hoping the diplomatic crisis that had broken out would soon be defused.
KAREL JAN GUSTAAF VAN OOSTEROM (Netherlands), emphasizing that the perpetrators must face justice, said there was no legitimate reason why anyone should try to delay, sidetrack, second-guess or discredit the United Kingdom’s investigation. Recalling the European Council’s condemnation of the Salisbury attack, he called on the Russian Federation to fully cooperate with the ongoing investigation and provide full disclosure of its Novichok programme to OPCW. He added that any use of chemical weapons was a threat to international peace and security that the Council could not ignore.
BERNARD TANOH-BOUTCHOUE (Côte d’Ivoire) condemned any use of chemical weapons, whether in times of peace or war. It was essential to get to the bottom of the incident that took place in Salisbury, he said, urging all States to provide all relevant and necessary information to OPCW.
GUSTAVO MEZA-CUADRA (Peru), condemning any use of chemical weapons, said any such practice represented a threat to international peace and security and violated the non-proliferation regime. OPCW must investigate the incident and publish the results of its analyses.
Taking the floor for a second time, Mr. NEBENZIA (Russian Federation) expressed hope that as the investigation progressed, more truth would “find its way to the light”. What was taking place was the “theatre of the absurd”, he said, reading a passage from Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland. The United Kingdom had not followed the procedures of the Chemical Weapons Convention, although he hoped the results of the investigation into the attack would be made public.
Ms. PIERCE (United Kingdom), also taking the floor for a second time, responded to her Russian counterpart, citing another great quote from Alice in Wonderland that was particularly relevant: “six impossible things before breakfast”. Moving forward, she said her Government was committed to keeping the Council updated on the issue and would share as much information as it could and in accordance with developments.