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Daniel Pruce

British Ambassador to the Philippines and to Palau

17th April 2018

Does Russia support the rules based international system at all?

Modern chemical weapons were first deployed in the First World War.  It took the international community 80 years to agree international rules for restraining their use.  Within 21 years, 95% of chemical weapons stockpiles had been destroyed.  This was an astonishing, global achievement and the OPCW was rightly awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2013.

This was the same year that chemical weapons attacks by the Assad regime in Syria began, and Russia started to use its position at the UN to prevent it being held accountable, emboldening the regime even further.  With cavalier disregard not only for the victims but its own international reputation, last week Russia deployed its veto for the twelfth time to protect the Assad regime from accountability.

As the horror was unfolding in Douma, Syria, the OPCW was carefully compiling its report on the toxin used in the attack in Salisbury, England.  We now have its findings:  the international watchdog has confirmed that the toxin unleashed in Salisbury was military-grade nerve agent of the type known as Novichok, which was developed in the Soviet era and produced by Russia.

There can be no doubt as to the integrity of the OPCW process yet Russia declared in advance that it would not accept the findings of this independent, international body.  The OPCW did not point the finger of blame; that was never its job.  It is for Russia to explain how a Russian nerve agent came to be used in the attempted murder of two civilians on British soil last month.  Despite the quagmire of disinformation and diplomatic diversion it has attempted to create, the facts remain the same.  We know Russia produced this nerve agent within the last 10 years and remains capable of doing so. We know that the Russian state has investigated ways of assassination through the use of nerve agents.

Indeed for a decade now, the Russian State has scandalously forfeited its responsibility as a permanent member of the Security Council in its narrow attempts to avoid answering for its own appalling behaviour. There is a clear pattern of pushing back the boundaries of law and decency including in Georgia and Ukraine, the shooting down of MH17; the bungled attempt at a coup in Montenegro and other interference in democratic processes.

Taken together, it is clear that Russia now represents a direct threat to the Chemical Weapons Convention.

While decent minded people rally to the defence of the Chemical Weapons Convention, there is another question, and one that Russia cannot block since it has no veto in the forum of public opinion: does it support the rules based international system at all?