Opening remarks by Russia's Permanent Representative to the OPCW Alexander Shulgin at a news conference on the 24th session the Chemical Weapons Convention meeting, The Hague, November 28, 2019
Good evening, ladies and gentlemen, colleagues.
We are starting our news conference on the CWC meeting, the highest body of our organisation, in The Hague.
I would like to introduce the participants.
My name is Alexander Shulgin, and I am Russia's Permanent Representative to the OPCW. Igor Kirillov, Commander of the Defence Ministry NBC defence troops is to the left of me. My neighbor to the right is Viktor Kholstov, Head of the CWC and BTWC Analytical Research Centre at the Ministry of Industry and Trade.
The conference is drawing to a close and it is time to review the first results. It seems that this conference will be primarily remembered for the adoption by consensus of two draft resolutions – by the Western Three, the United States, Canada and the Netherlands as swell as Russia - on updating control lists from the Appendix to the CWC.
For the first time since the existence of the CWC (it was opened to signing in 1993), the register of convention-controlled toxic agents has been supplemented with new groups of deadly chemicals.
The two families of abstract toxic substances that were presented by the Western Three (in Western terminology they are called novichoks) were supplemented with another two families of toxic agents. One contains a chemical that was developed and studied in secret NATO labs (Czech President Milos Zeman released a statement on this). Another family, that we insitsted on including, includes several hundred chemcials developed and licensed in the United States as weapons in the 1970s and 1980s. The Americans should have declared them at the end of CWC development but didn’t do it at that time.
The resolution of the problem with these lists is certainly a positive move. After a long period of fierce confrontation here at the OPCW in The Hague, Russia and the United States have finally proved that our delegations have not yet forgotten how to come to terms.
At the same time, the adoption of the OPCW Programme and Budget for 2020 has been a serious stumbling block at the conference. We confirmed our objections to the so-called omnibus draft decision prepared by the Technical Secretariat. This draft covers expenses on so-called attributive activities that we consider illegal (they violate the CWC and damage the exclusive prerogatives of the UN Security Council).
The other drawback of this omnibus draft is the use of cash accumulated from the previous year without the consent of all participating states, which is a flagrant violation of the financial rules of our organisation.
We are supported by the representatives of the People’s Republic of China who also have reservations about the programme and budget.
We have just held a rollcall vote, and I am looking at the results. The omnibus project received 106 votes, 19 delegations voted against it, 17 abstained and 11 walked out of the room.
This result is probably due to the unscrupulous campaign waged by our opponents, who tried to create the impression that Russia and China are shutting the door on the OPCW to prevent its successful operations in the future.
If we analyse the outcome of the voting, we will see that one-third of the states attending this conference refused to be associated with the decisions on the OPCW agenda and budget.
Is it normal when the opinions of nearly one-third of states are disregarded? Well, it is regrettable that some states are trying to force others to adopt decisions under which they will have to pay for the questionable projects launched in the mercenary interests of certain groups of states.
Russia’s position is simple and clear: we are ready to continue financing the organisation on the condition that these funds are used to pay for conventional activities, what I mean here is the activities that are stipulated by the Convention.
Evidence of this constructive Russian attitude is the transfer of our annual contribution to the OPCW budget, less part of the cash balance for the preceding period that were used to finance the attributive functions assigned to the OPCW.
Before this session of the OPCW conference began, the leading Western media published a series of material about the shady schemes involving the preparation of the FFM report regarding the alleged chemical attack that took place in Douma, Syria, on April 4, 2018.
On November 18, all the states parties to the convention received an open letter from a group of scientists and public figures, including Jose Bustani, the first Director General of the OPCW. They urge the OPCW management to “come clean” and to “permit all inspectors who took part in the Douma investigation to come forward and report their differing observations.”
This is probably why the US representative at the OPCW has initiated a lively discussion, to put it mildly, at the Conference of the States Parties (CSP) this morning. He put forth unsubstantiated accusations against Russia and Syria and went as far as to say that Russia “continues to embrace chemical weapons” and that it is allegedly helping Syria to cover up the use of chemical weapons. Regarding the embracing of chemical weapons, it is definitely not Russia but the United States that is indeed doing this. Russia is committed to the convention; it is strictly complying with its provisions and has fulfilled its obligation to destroy the chemical weapons it inherited from the Soviet Union ahead of schedule. Meanwhile, our American colleagues are dragging their feet, drawing out the destruction of their chemical weapons under various pretexts, including financial and technological reasons. But these arguments are far-fetched and flimsy.
The US Representative said, probably as part of his comments on the latest media exposures, which I mentioned, that we must trust the top professionals working at the OPCW, who are reliable, objective and unbiased people.
In this connection, I told this audience in exercise of my right of reply that the US Representative admired the FFM experts. Why then did the Technical Secretariat not rely on the FFM when it compiled its final report, which said that barrels containing chlorine were delivered by an airstrike, but on three unidentified and allegedly independent experts, who had made this conclusion? I asked if this was because some of the FFM experts, who the US Representative said we must trust, turned out to be honest people who had visited the site of the alleged Douma attack and reached conclusions that were widely different from the expectations of the states that probably wanted to see conclusions that put the blame for the Douma attack on the Syrian authorities. Why was this done? The explanation is that these states wanted an excuse for an armed action against sovereign Syria, that is, the missile strike the United States, Britain and France delivered in the small hours of April 14, 2018.
I have also suggested that the participants in the CST wrap their mind around the following question. The Technical Secretariat, as you understand, has referred to the opinion of three allegedly independent experts from somewhere or other, rather than the FFM experts. The Russian Federation has applied to the Technical Secretariat on two occasions, asking it to publish the ballistic test data that enabled those supposedly independent experts to come to the said conclusions on an air attack involving the use of chlorine-filled cylinders.
On the first occasion, they turned us down because, allegedly, they could not endanger the lives of those independent experts. We said then: Perish the thought! These experts’ identities are of no interest to us. What we want is to look at the calculations themselves and check them from a scientific point of view. We sent another request and waited for a very long time. At long last, we received a half-hearted reply to the effect that they were unable to disclose the experts’ identities. It reminds me of a Russian proverb: “That’s mixing apples and oranges.” We requested the ballistic test data and hear in reply: “We can’t disclose the experts’ identities.” It’s a vicious circle!
In short, this is how the situation shapes up. In my remarks today I said that two assumptions could be made in connection with the Technical Secretariat’s systematic refusal to grant our requests. First, the ballistic, chemical or any other tests are so poor that it would be clear to any expert with at least some training that the whole thing is trumped up. The second assumption is even worse: It is highly likely that there were no international independent experts at all, that they are a figment of imagination, fictitious personages, who have been brought into it just to add importance to the Special Mission’s verdict about the air attack, in which chlorine-using Syrian troops were allegedly implicated.
Indicatively, this time, none of our usual opponents has dared to raise objections or offer any arguments. You know, unlike our US colleagues, who waste their breath on war cries and are hugging chemical weapons – well, they are very nearly kissing them – we provide concrete facts and they seem to have no replies to concrete facts.
What’s the thing to do considering what is happening? After all, the scandal is going into top gear. Unlike the US ambassador, who, as you may recall, has compared the Technical Secretariat to a small island amid a stormy sea, I proposed that the situation should not to overdramatised and that we act in a different way.
We should not whip up the passions or speculate about the storms or the eye of a hurricane, where the poor Technical Secretariat allegedly finds itself. We had better take a different look at the situation. Let us regard the Technical Secretariat and the OPCW in general as our common home. It is for this that the Director-General of the Technical Secretariat is calling us. A common home, where all of us, the States Parties, can come with our grievances and try to have them sorted out.
The question is – is there a problem with the functioning of our Organisation now? Yes, of course, there is. On the one hand, there are three supposedly independent experts, but they are being hidden, along with their appraisal. On the other hand, dozens of experts, recognised and respected people, with remarkable international reputations, led by Professor Robinson, have been pointing out the obvious inconsistency between the OPCW Fact Finding Mission (FFM) conclusions and the real situation.
I have reminded you that we once proposed holding a briefing for all the FFM experts who previously worked, or are still working with the Technical Secretariat and who travelled to the Douma to investigate the situation. Among other things, we also made this proposal because our military found the Syrians, who were involuntary participants in the provocation, appeared in the White Helmets’ video. In April 2018, we brought those witnesses to The Hague, and they spoke at the OPCW headquarters, telling us what really happened.
But what about this special mission and its final report of March 1? Did they even mention the briefing at the OPCW with those involuntary witnesses? Did they take it into consideration? No and no. They simply dismissed it as a fact that did not fit into the picture that needed to be created.
I remember when we proposed holding that briefing, the American ambassador stood up again and said he would never allow a reenactment of the Stalinist processes of the 1930s with intimidation and cross-interrogation here in The Hague.
Well, listen, if the Americans were so afraid of having a Russian representative at those hearings, at that briefing, then, for God’s sake, we could think about another format. For example, let the Director-General, as some here propose, meet with a group of FFM experts, former and present, only in the presence of international independent observers from various countries, possibly with the exception of the five states that are permanent members of the UN Security Council.
In a word, there are many options, if there is goodwill. But inaction is extremely dangerous. We are simply driving the disease in this way, and undermining trust in anything the Technical Secretariat will produce in the future – FFM reports or reports by the Identification and Investigation Team (attribution team) – from the very beginning.
So what we need to do is act. We expect that the situation will be considered one way or another. It is important to do this, if only because the cost of the FFM error is extremely high. International security depends on it.
And finally, Russia and other countries that share this stance are making a statement at this conference on the need to step up the fight against chemical terrorism. The problem is that ISIS militants have gained experience in handling chemicals; they have such chemicals and can carry out chemical attacks, including in the countries where they return.