Statement by Deputy Minister of Industry and Trade Georgy Kalamanov at the 57th Meeting of the OPCW Executive Council
Members of the Executive Council,
The Russian Federation insisted that this extraordinary meeting of the OPCW Executive Council be convened in light of the extreme tension created by Britain’s claims against Russia over alleged violations of its obligations under the Chemical Weapons Convention.
On March 12, Britain openly accused Russia of involvement in the March 4 incident in Salisbury, where, according to the British police, an attempt was made on the lives of Sergey Skripal and his daughter Yulia using a nerve agent named Novichok under some Western countries’ classification.
Regrettably, the discussion held on this matter at the 87th Session of the OPCW has not produced the desired results. Russia’s proposals to the UK to launch a direct dialogue to clarify the situation as stipulated in the CWC have not been accepted.
Moreover, the UK opted for dramatically increasing tension in bilateral relations with Russia, appealed to its allies and provoked the expulsion of Russian diplomats from London and several other countries. Russia responded harshly. The situation is extremely dangerous and unpredictable, and the tension continues to escalate.
The UK still avoids any interaction with Russia. At the same time, it publicly presents certain demands to Russia. I will repeat what we have already said more than once: Russia is interested in the establishment of the truth more than the UK, because the matter concerns the attempt on the life of Russian citizen Yulia Skripal, and the way it was done very much looks like a terrorist attack.
The summons of the Russian Ambassador to the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office on March 12 cannot be interpreted as an offer of cooperation, as the OPCW has put it, or as a request for legal assistance. We were given an ultimatum to admit to committing this crime within 24 hours. No comment is necessary, I believe. Moreover, it has been said that Russia refused to answer the questions presented to it. This is not so. We answered to that ultimatum absolutely openly and clearly: Russia has nothing to do and is in no way connected with the Salisbury attack.
I would like to say the following regarding the current situation. Appeals have been made to us to cooperate with the OPCW. These appeals have come from many capitals. The Foreign Minister of the Netherlands, Stef Blok, has recently made a statement to this effect. We are saying officially in the OPCW headquarters that we are open to dialogue in any format and form. We are ready to cooperate with the OPCW and at the OPCW. The Russian Federation does not only want this but also intends to do so in strict compliance with the CWC provisions.
Evidence of the seriousness of our intentions is the way we prepared for this session. Our interdepartmental delegation includes representatives from the leading Russian agencies concerned with the subject matter of the OPCW, including the Ministry of Industry and Trade, the Ministry of Defence and the Foreign Ministry. It also includes a Russian expert who can answer technical questions.
We have a question for our British colleagues: Are they really ready for cooperation with us, as they claim to be? Can they bring their experts to The Hague? We would listen with great interest to a statement made by a delegate from Porton Down, whose experts of global renown, according to our British counterparts, have established following the analysis of the toxic agent found at the site of the Salisbury incident that it was a nerve agent of the Novichok class and that it was manufactured in Russia.
What do we see now? Yesterday, the UK based television network Sky News presented an interview with Gary Aitkenhead, chief executive of the UK Defence Science and Technology Laboratory at Porton Down, who admitted that they were unable to determine the country where the toxic agent was manufactured. He also said there was no known antidote to Novichok, which means that no antidotes were used in the Skripal case.
Think about the concrete evidence of Russia’s involvement in the alleged poisoning of Sergey Skripal and his daughter. Buttress your words with facts. It is not enough to make statements to the effect that Russia has allegedly refused to respond to the UK’s requirement for information regarding our involvement in this crime. A statement regarding the UK allegations of the alleged use of a nerve agent in Salisbury will be made by Professor Igor Rybalchenko, a Doctor of Chemistry and an expert of the Russian Defence Ministry.
STATEMENT BY IGOR RYBALCHENKO
British Prime Minister Theresa May has made a number of sharp-worded statements, saying that Sergey and Yulia Skripal had been poisoned by a Novichok-type nerve gas that could only have been manufactured in Russia. The British side has failed to provide any hard evidence.
In the first days after the Salisbury incident, the British side claimed that the Skripals had been poisoned by fentanyl. Subsequent claims involved poisoning by a nerve gas. It should be noted that the above-mentioned substances influence the human body in an entirely different manner. Their casualty-producing effects are also different. In this connection, one would like to ask why British experts and the media have mentioned such substances that produce completely different effects on the human body.
Today, the UK mostly claims that the Skripals had been poisoned by the Novichok nerve gas.
The public learned the name of some Novichok compounds, minus any structural formulas, after the publication of a report Chemical Weapons Disarmament in Russia: Problems and Prospects by The Henry L. Stimson Centre in 1995 in the US. Its authors are Amy E. Smithson, Vil Mirzayanov, Roland Lajoie and Michael Krepon.
The Handbook of Chemical and Biological Warfare Agents by D. Hank Ellison 2nd Edition, 2007, listed data on the structure of the family of phosphorus-organic compounds, also known as the Novichok family, for the first time. The publication mentions the structures of 58 compounds. According to the author, they are related to the Novichok group. In fact, they are organic phosphates with various combinations of substituting hetero-atoms, including oxygen, carbon, nitrogen, fluoride, chlorine and bromide atoms. All compounds feature indexes under the American Society Chemical Abstract System, thereby proving that they had been synthesised.
In 2008, Vil Mirzayanov’s book State Secrets: An Insider's Chronicle of the Russian Chemical Weapons Program was published in the United States. It mentioned structural formulas of five compounds and their codes (A-230, A-232, A-234, A-242 and A-262), also listed by the author in the Novichok family. These formulas did not match structures, mentioned in Ellison’s 2007 book.
On April 4-6, 2011, participants in the 16th session of the OPCW’s Scientific Advisory Board discussed the publication of Mirzayanov’s book. The final report of the session says: “In December 2008, a former defence scientist published a book, which included information on structures reported to be those of the new agents. Some of these structures meet the criteria for Schedule 2 B4 (S2 B4); however, all others are non-scheduled chemicals. The author claimed that the toxicity of certain “Novichok” agents may exceed that of VX. In a discussion of the issue, SAB members emphasised that, to date, there has been no confirmation of the author's claims, nor has any peer review been undertaken in regard to the information on these chemicals in the scientific literature on this subject.”
After Vil Mirzayanov’s book was printed, numerous other open research papers dealing with compounds listed by Mirzayanov and Ellison in the Novichok family appeared. In 2009 and 2011, these research papers were published in the United States and the Czech Republic. In 2014, they were published in Iran and Italy. A US patent was filed in 2015. In 2016, similar research papers were published in the United States, Iran and India. In2018, they were published in the Czech Republic. It should be noted that real substances had to be synthesised for research purposes.
The structure and mass-spectrum band of a substance mentioned in Mirzayanov’s book was listed in the 1998 spectral database of the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST 98) in the United States. The database contained an affiliation noting that the spectrum had been submitted by an author from the US Army Edgewood Chemical Biological Center (ECBC). It should be noted that this fact shows unequivocally that this substance had been synthesised and subjected to spectral and probably some other research.
Considering the above-mentioned facts, one can unequivocally note that agents, listed by some authors in the family of Novichok chemicals since the mid-1990s, have become quite widespread and can be obtained from numerous laboratories. In this connection, it appears that claims that the Russian Federation alone manufactures them are incorrect, to put it mildly, and they are basically absurd.
Any modern chemical laboratory boasting the required structural formulas and synthesis methods, protection levels and skilled personnel will be able to synthesise and study Novichok-type substances. Many states can easily buy all the semi-products for synthesising these compounds. Consequently, there are no unique markers capable of unequivocally pointing to a country that has manufactured the substance used to poison the Skripals.
The United Kingdom and Russia will have to work together while conducting an authentic investigation.
More profound expert assessments will be needed for drawing any conclusions. Russia reaffirms its readiness for subsequent cooperation with the UK.
STATEMENT BY GEORGY KALAMANOV
In light of the facts provided by the Russian experts regarding the creation of toxic agents around the world, as well as the UK’s refusal to provide evidence and denial of consular access to the affected Russian citizens, we can conclude that the actions taken with regard to these Russian citizens can be identified as a terrorist attack using a chemical toxic agent. Therefore, we propose holding an investigation in keeping with the decisions of the OPCW Executive Council and the report of the Third Special Session of the Conference of the States Parties to Review the Operation of the Chemical Weapons Convention (Third Review Conference).
The UK continues to accuse Russia of a grave violation of the CWC, namely, the illegal use of chemical weapons on British territory. Article IX of the CWC stipulates a clear procedure in such cases, which includes consultations, cooperation and fact-finding.
However, our UK partners have refused to hold direct consultations with us and have instead requested the technical assistance of the OPCW’s Technical Secretariat. This request for assistance was subsequently rephrased, according to our colleagues, as a request for an independent technical analysis to verify the results of the inquiry held by the UK. A group of OPCW experts went to the UK. However, it is unclear what these experts really did there. The OPCW Executive Council has no information regarding this. The Technical Secretariat has said they can only share the information at its disposal with the permission of the UK. This is a completely abnormal situation. I would even say that it is undermining the integrity of the OPCW.
Therefore, it can be said objectively that despite the numerous cooperation appeals to Russia, we have been denied any information regarding this case. Moreover, the Executive Council has no access to this information either.
In this connection, I would like to share with you our views on ways to return this situation to the OPCW’s legal framework. The UK request to the Technical Secretariat for verifying the UK conclusions is not stipulated in the CWC. More importantly, what verification does the UK expect?
Some delegations may wonder why this meeting was convened if the results of the OPCW experts’ work have not been made public yet. I would like to remind everyone that in keeping with its mandate, the Technical Secretariat can only draw conclusions that do not entail attribution of responsibility. It can only make a technical analysis of the agent that was used in Salisbury. What next?
This brings us back to the need for Russia’s cooperation not just with the UK but also with the Technical Secretariat so as to be able to clarify the circumstances of this very serious incident. We have many questions we would like to ask our British partners and the Technical Secretariat. We also have questions that we would like to ask France as well, which is providing technical assistance to the investigation into the Salisbury incident at the invitation of the British partners, as far as we know.
I would like to point out once again that we have a very responsible attitude to working in strict compliance with the CWC provisions.
More precisely, we believe that this meeting of the Executive Council, considering our confirmed readiness for cooperation, should adopt a decision the draft of which we have submitted for your consideration. The core element of this document is the Executive Council’s appeal to Russia and the UK to work together in keeping with the CWC provisions, as well as instructions to the Director-General to facilitate the development of such technical cooperation.
We point out that Russia will accept the conclusions of any investigation, especially since this particular case concerns not just the interests of the UK but also the OPCW sphere of competence, that is based on hard facts and evidence and is conducted in compliance with international law as well as with the obligatory involvement of Russia.
Russia has proposed convening this meeting of the Executive Council not only so that the delegations will have an opportunity to speak up and present their positions. All sides need to calm down, use the CWC mechanisms and launch constructive cooperation.
In light of Britain’s unfriendly attitude to Russia, to put it mildly, we want to say outright that we would accept any option. If they reject direct cooperation with us, we would agree to indirect relations, provided the Technical Secretariat is also involved, for example, within the framework of a multilateral expert group created by decision of the Executive Council and including specialists from the concerned countries. The UK would be able to invite those it wants, while we would ask some of our partners to dispatch their representatives to this expert group. In other words, let us look for an option that will be accepted as the best and will help to establish the truth.
We are ready to go as far as possible. Lying on the table of this meeting is a draft decision that is constructive and focused on resolving this problem. If the Executive Council judges this decision to be acceptable and we adopt it, the implementation stage will begin tomorrow. It is only in this manner and only by making use of the OPCW’s entire potential that we will be able to settle this crisis. I ask the delegates to support our draft.
Thank you, Mr Chairperson.
I ask that my statement be designated an official document of the 57th special meeting of the Executive Council and placed on the OPCW public websites.