Statement by Ambassador Vassily Nebenzya, Permanent Representative of the Russian Federation to the United Nations, at the UN Security Council meeting convened at the March 13, 2018 request of Great Britain, New York, April 18, 2018
We are grateful to Ms Izumi Nakamitsu for her briefing.
We are also grateful to our UK partners for today’s briefing. We looked forward to it, but, regrettably, we have not heard anything new today.
As I listen to some of our colleagues, it no longer sounds like something from Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland but rather its sequel, Through the Looking-Glass. Truth is not what our Western partners seek, and not only in this particular case. They refuse to hear or even listen. As the saying goes, we talk about Thomas and they talk about Jonas.
Today we have again heard the same lies the UK has been using to deceive the international community. The UK claims that it has not received any answers to the questions it asked us. I would like to say again that the UK has only issued a 24-hour ultimatum to us that contained one question: Why did we do it? And yet some of the UK’s allies continue to stubbornly urge us to answer Britain’s questions and to cooperate with it. If you have any questions we do not have, maybe you will forward them to us? We would be grateful for this, because the UK has not asked any additional questions.
We see the same old set of ungrounded accusations, only this time allegedly backed up by the OPCW’s report. I have to tell you that there is nothing in the OPCW report that would substantiate the UK’s allegations about Russia’s involvement in the Salisbury incident. The main element that is missing in the OPCW report, which the UK wanted to see so much, is that it cannot be said definitively that the nerve agent used in Salisbury was manufactured in Russia. Moreover, the speed with which the OPCW has made its analysis only shows that this agent could be produced in any laboratory that is equipped for this. To be able to conduct a comparative analysis, one must have access to a standard sample of a given toxic agent. There are such laboratories in the UK, including at Porton Down, as well as in the US and several other countries. The formula of this agent was made public in 1998, when the US Army Edgewood Chemical Biological Centre added it to the database of the American National Standards Institute. Moreover, searching for the word “Novichok” on Google Patents shows that over 140 patents on the use of and protection from this toxic agent have been issued in the United States alone.
One month and two weeks have passed since the incident in Salisbury occurred on March 4; however, the number of question marks surrounding this story has not decreased but, on the contrary, is dramatically increasing. This kind of conduct from London is nothing new to us. At today's session of the Executive Council of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, the British representative, whose speech was as usual based on lies and misinformation about Russia's motives, methods and means, yet again said, "Russia has a proven record of conducting state-sponsored assassination." My question is, proven by whom? Of course, this was followed by plenty of references to the Litvinenko case, with arguments based on a fashionable formulation in British jurisprudence: "President Putin probably approved it," "The Russian state may have been involved," "The Russian state may have sponsored," "There have been numerous suspected Russian state-sponsored attacks."
Ladies and gentlemen, what we are seeing and hearing today is like deja vu. We saw it in the case of Alexander Litvinenko's poisoning - a total lack of transparency regarding the actions of the British who are still concealing all documentary information that would make it possible to piece together the whole picture of what happened to Litvinenko. For those who don’t know, Great Britain simply classified this information.
The OPCW's report on technical assistance on April 12 was no exception to London's modus operandi. In the document's open part, which took up one and a half pages, the British prohibited organisation experts not only from mentioning what type of technical assistance was requested but event from naming the toxic agent identified by Porton Down. London chose to conceal all this information in the report's closed part whose discussion in the open format of the Council meeting would be a violation of OPCW confidentiality. For us, it is obvious why this was done.
Well, if the British side does not give Council members the right to discuss what was allowed to be included in the report's substantive part then let us discuss what is lacking. And what is lacking is, first, any mention of the Russian Federation, which corresponds to the conclusions by Porton Down we heard earlier. There is not the slightest mention of factors of poisoning for Sergey Skripal and Yulia Skripal as well as for Nick Bailey. Lacking also is information on the course of their illness and treatment methods used.
Nor will you find there any explanations of how a toxic agent, which, according to its alleged creator Vil Mirzayanov, is “extremely unstable in humid conditions”, could have been detected “in high concentrations” almost two weeks after the incident. Also, there is not a single word about how the aforementioned substance, which is allegedly ten times more lethal than VX, was able to affect some of the victims exposed to it only seven hours afterwards, while others were affected immediately. Perhaps, Vil Mirzayanov and Porton Down are talking about different toxic agents?
Moreover, you will not find in it any more or less reasonable explanation of how a blood sample, which was taken from the female victim 18 days after the exposure, could have contained the non-decomposed toxic agent identified by Porton Down, whereas, nothing of the sort was found in another victim, who suffered more severe poisoning. This would not only be uncharacteristic of toxic nerve agents, but it could indirectly indicate “with a high degree of likelihood” that the toxic agent identified by Porton Down was injected into the blood of the victim, who was in a medically induced coma, prior to collecting blood samples, and therefore could not enter into a biochemical reaction.
This gives rise to a question. On April 5, the UK Permanent Representative reacted to a quotation from Boris Johnson, cited by me, concerning the availability at Porton Down of samples of A-234, by saying that Britain is allowed to conduct research for defence purposes. Perhaps, the esteemed experts from Porton Down have studied and possess this and other toxic agents that are not on the corresponding lists of the Chemical Weapons Convention. I believe that, within the framework of preparations for a report by the Scientific Advisory Board of the OPCW Technical Secretariat Director-General for the 4th Chemical Weapons Convention Review Conference, it is high time for Porton Down experts to tell the world about their research into the A-234 agent for defence purposes and, possibly, about other toxic agents that pose a threat to the Convention’s goals. But let us not harboгr illusions – the line of conduct taken by Britain on the Salisbury incident makes it clear that this will not be done. Britain and its allies are simply not interested in a professional discussion. Meanwhile, the further it unfolds, the more professional chemists and experts challenge the official British version.
Regrettably, London’s loose interpretation of the provisions of the Chemical Weapons Convention is bound to raise questions. For example, Britain keeps saying that its domestic investigation conforms to Clause 1 of Article VII of the Convention. This assumption would have been justified if not for one “but” – that would apply only to investigations of physical and legal entities under Britain’s jurisdiction. I hope I do not have to explain that Russia is not under Britain’s jurisdiction. In this context, we would like to ask London to explain: are statements by Downing Street on Russia’s alleged involvement in the Salisbury incident an attempt to bring political pressure on the investigating team, or are they the final conclusions of Scotland Yard’s investigation? Or is it normal for the British legal system to wait for the government to assign guilt and then tailor the investigation to this conclusion?
Let me emphasise once again – any doubts about the faithful fulfilment of obligations under the Convention should be settled in accordance with Article IX. We do not know any other meanings of “shall” or “should.” We would be grateful to native speakers if they could tell us when these verbs may not be obligatory. This would be very useful for our further work in the Security Council.
Since our repeated proposals to London to start cooperation under Article IX have been ignored and inquiries of Russia’s Prosecutor General’s Office on legal aid in line with Clause 2 of Article VII remained unanswered, we have no other choice but to initiate a query of our own under Clause 2 of Article IX with a list of questions for Britain on the Salisbury incident of March 4. On April 13, the Permanent Mission of Russia in The Hague sent a corresponding note to Britain via the OPCW Technical Secretariat.
In the light of the above, we are convinced that to bolster up the Convention, the Secretariat’s Director General should submit a draft providing for the elaboration of amendments to the Annex on lists of chemicals to the next session of the OPCW Executive Council in accordance with Clause 5 of Article XV of the Convention. This decision will make it possible not only to officially classify the substance identified by Porton Down as a chemical warfare agent but also to put it and its precursors under systematic control by the OPCW. This is what should have been done by the countries that, as it transpires, had all the information required for this, including samples of this toxic chemical, instead of using the rostrums of the OPCW and the Security Council to spread their groundless accusation that Russia violated its obligations under the Convention.
It is no secret that the British authorities have unleashed an information campaign, or rather warfare against Russia over the so-called Skripal case. Norms of international law and law in general, the principles and laws of diplomacy, common sense and elementary courtesy are flouted. Against the background of a pointed silence of the competent British agencies over the substance of the case and the flurry of political declarations and pronouncements directed against Russia from the start, ever new versions of what is happening appear, significant discrepancies surface, information and blatant disinformation are being thrown in, which London has no intention of refuting. The hoax has been planted. Then they expect that amid the cacophony of unsubstantiated charges and references to reputable organisations such as the OPCW, which allegedly “has fully confirmed the British conclusion of Russia’s complicity,” which, I repeat, is a brazen lie, the states and the public will not bother to look closely at the niceties of chemical analyses and the numerous discrepancies in the charges brought. As Winston Churchill said, “There is no such thing as public opinion. There is only published opinion.” And of course the British and their allies have no problem spreading their false claims through the media.
The British side has asked us two questions. We asked the British authorities 47 questions. Here they are. We received partial answers to two of them. No answers have been given to the questions we put during the previous Council session on this issue on April 5. We have more questions in the pipeline. We promised that we won’t get off your back.
To give you an idea of the scientific and factual aspects of the case we will make available to you the speeches of Russian representatives at the 59th OPCW session and for good measure the chronology of the events prepared by our embassy in London. We will also distribute these remarks of mine.
Meanwhile the British authorities are quietly destroying physical and all other evidence: the animals from the Skripal home have been put down. No samples have probably been taken from them. The places the Skripals had visited have been closed off: the bar, the restaurant, the bench, the soil in the park, etc. Meanwhile the ordinary people in Salisbury go about their daily life as usual. Yulia Skripal’s whereabouts are unknown. There is no consular access to the Russian citizen. Let me remind you that neither Yulia nor Sergey have been seen since March 4. And yet these Russian citizens are victims of a crime, an attempted murder that bears the signs of terrorism.
I would like to reaffirm our principled stand: we will not accept the results of any national or international investigations unless we have access to the whole body of information (be it data of the criminal prosecution or complete technical reports from laboratories), unless we are able to exercise our right to consular access to Russian citizens and, most importantly, without direct participation of Russian experts in all the actions aimed at clarifying the picture of what happened in Salisbury on March 4.
The only indisputable fact for us today is that London continues to hide critical information and reject any transparency in this matter.
The British embassy in Moscow again caught the limelight by releasing the following “sensational” information, pretty much the same information as that presented by the British Permanent Representative to the OPCW and the Permanent Representative to the UN in today’s letter to the UN Secretary General:
- During the past ten years Russia has been producing and stockpiling Novichok gas.
- Russia has been doing research into the use of toxic agents as weapons in assassinations.
- Beginning from 2013, Russian intelligence has been interested in Sergey Skripal.
Bravo, my applause.
Going back to the letter of the British Permanent Representative to the UN which she distributed today among the permanent members of the Security Council. As usual, the document bristles with false, unproven and slanderous claims. As usual, it is full of expressions such as “highly likely,” “may have been,” “suspected.” Britain has the nerve to speak unequivocally about our chemical statement and to discuss the methods used by our special services. However, this time around our British colleagues went a step further. They directly accused President Putin of being involved in the chemical warfare programme, without inverted commas or expressions like “highly likely.” I have always been surprised and amused by the fantastic ideas our British and not only British colleagues have of the way the Russian government system works. London apparently thinks that the Russian President has a hobby of supervising the chemical weapons programme in his leisure hours. I wonder if London or the permanent mission here realise that they have crossed all conceivable limits of what is acceptable and those of decency. I think you should thank our President for his self-control.
What is all this for?
The answers are as obvious as they are banal.
It is an attempt to besmirch Russia and put into question its legitimacy and role in the world. It is not for nothing that I said there is a connection between Salisbury and Douma. First, both are provocations. And, second, both are put at Russia’s door.
This dirty provocation against Russia aims to deepen the rift between Russia and the European Union, which apparently is very important for Britain ahead of Brexit.
That is all there is to it.
In conclusion, Mr Chairman, it is time to bring in the classics. William Shakespeare said in King Henry VI: “Suspicion always haunts the guilty mind.” Well, at least try to put your “suspicions” in an attractive wrapping. Otherwise, you sound unconvincing. One is even sorry for you.
We look forward to this thrilling saga to unfold. If the British side delays fresh information or does not come up with some “sensation” similar to the one I cited today, we reserve the right to request such a session ourselves.
If you think you can hide behind the toxic cloud of lies and speculations, you are mistaken. The story does not end with technical assistance to the OPCW. We will continue to demand facts from you.
The case certainly has a lot to do with “chemistry.” “Chemistry” is the Russian slang for skullduggery. You have really made a chemical mess of things. We agree with you only on one point. There should be no impunity. Those responsible for this provocation must be punished.