What's In Blue

Posted Wed 14 Mar 2018

Use of Nerve Agent in the United Kingdom: Briefing

A meeting has been scheduled for 3 pm this afternoon (14 March) regarding accusations of the use of a nerve agent in the United Kingdom on 4 March. Yesterday evening, the United Kingdom requested the meeting to update members in closed consultations on its investigations into the attack in Salisbury, which resulted in the poisoning of three individuals: Sergei Skripal, a former Russian intelligence officer who spied for the UK, and his daughter, both of whom are reportedly in a critical condition, as well as a police officer, who became ill while investigating the incident. Russia, however, has requested that the meeting be held in the open chamber, and the meeting will be convened in public.

While a Secretariat briefer is not expected, the UK, which has said that it is highly likely that Russia perpetrated the attack on UK soil, is expected to present evidence of its investigations. Russia, which has vigorously denied the accusation, is expected to present its own perspective on the issue. It seems that EU and NATO Council members (in addition to the UK) will make interventions, and others may as well.

NATO issued a strongly worded statement earlier today saying that the UK had “confirmed that this was an indiscriminate and reckless attack against the United Kingdom, putting the lives of innocent civilians at risk”. The statement went on to assert that the “Allies expressed deep concern at the first offensive use of a nerve agent on Alliance territory since NATO’s foundation”.

At press time, the agenda item for the meeting remains unclear. One possibility is that a new agenda item related to the letter that the UK sent to the Secretary-General and the Council on 13 March regarding the incident could be the agenda item. Another possibility is that the meeting could be held under the existing “non-proliferation” agenda item. Deciding on the agenda item could be a source of contention among members prior to this afternoon’s meeting.

The poisoning of Skripal and his daughter in the United Kingdom has set off a diplomatic row between the UK and its allies on the one hand and Russia on the other hand. Recriminations between Russia and the UK played out in the Executive Council of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), which is currently in session. Peter Wilson, the UK’s Permanent Representative to the OPCW, said that the incident “was either a direct act by the Russian state against the United Kingdom, or a case where the Russian government had lost control of this potentially catastrophically damaging nerve agent and allowed it to get into the hands of others”. Alexander Shulgin, Russian Permanent Representative to the OPCW, responded by saying that: “The British authorities’ unfounded accusations of Russia’s alleged involvement in using poisonous agents on their territory are absolutely unacceptable”.

While the UK demanded on 12 March that Russia provide full information about its Novichok program (named for the type of nerve agent allegedly used in this case) within 24 hours, Shulgin stated at the OPCW briefing that “the ultimatum’s demand that information be provided immediately… is absolutely unacceptable”. Russia has requested that the incident be addressed through the Chemical Weapons Convention, referring to article IX (paragraph 2), which gives a state party up to 10 days to respond to a request from another state party. (Both the UK and Russia are state parties to the convention.)

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