Statement by Ambassador Vassily A. Nebenzia, Permanent Representative of the Russian Federation to the United Nations, at the Security Council meeting on letter dated 13 March 2018 from the Chargén d'affaires a.i. of the Permanent Mission of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland to the United Nations addressed to the President of the Security Council
Yesterday, after the letter from the British Prime Minister (S/2018/218, annex) was circulated to the Security Council, the United Kingdom asked that closed consultations be held. It was we who asked the President of the Security Council to change the meeting format from closed consultations to an open briefing. We did that for a reason, because we wanted everyone to see what is going on here. In the letter, which contains totally irresponsible assertions and which I actually find it difficult to comment on in diplomatic terms, there are threats to a sovereign State and permanent member of the Security Council that are contrary to international law and Article 2, paragraph 4, of the Charter of the United Nations. I would like to try to understand whether our British colleagues understand that, at least.
The first question we want to ask is why the representatives of the United Kingdom have dragged this issue into the Security Council, thereby ignoring the established procedure that London is obliged to follow, in accordance with its international commitments — that is, going through the specialized bodies, assuming we are talking about the use of toxic chemicals on United Kingdom territory. The response to that question is obvious to us. Our partners have dragged the issue into the forum of the Security Council because they know that the their arguments will not pass muster with the real experts on chemical weapons in The Hague. In reality, in other words, they are afraid of a genuine professional discussion of the subject, and this shows that the initiators of the meeting have entirely different motives for it.
The Russian Federation considers the unfounded accusations in British Prime Minister Theresa May’s appeal of 13 March to the Secretary-General — to the effect that our country was allegedly involved in the use of poisonous substances in Salisbury — totally unacceptable. In what amounts to an ultimatum, it asks us to respond within 24 hours essentially to admit to committing a crime and to confess our guilt. We do not speak in the language of ultimatums with anyone. Nor do we let ourselves be spoken to in that kind of tone. But we are polite, and on 13 March we sent a note to the British Foreign Office affirming that Russia was not party to the incident and requesting samples of the substance involved and a joint investigation, particularly considering that one of the victims is a citizen of the Russian Federation. That was refused. In other words, while drumming up hysteria, London is acting in a wholly untransparent way. Today we heard reports of Russian diplomats being expelled and bilateral relations being frozen. Incidentally, I would like to ask my British colleague if that applies to the United Nations as well. There were also reports of a forthcoming cyberattack on Russia. Let this be a warning that this will not go unanswered.
We have been compelled to conclude that establishing the truth is the last thing the British authorities are interested in and that they have quite other motives. Their methods are those of the war by propaganda that have been refined in recent years, designed to produce a powerful information impact on an unenlightened and impressionable public. But there are no facts backing them up except their unfounded assertions about Russian tracks. Incidentally, this is far from being the first case of an attempt in the United Kingdom on the lives of Russian citizens or immigrants from Russia in extremely fishy circumstances, attempts that either still have not been investigated or about which we were refused any information. London should start by dealing with what is going on at home. Before blaming others, civilized people usually put their own house in order.
We suggested that the United Kingdom immediately launch the procedures provided for in paragraph 2 of article IX of the Chemical Weapons Convention, whereby a State party that receives a request from another State party for clarification shall provide the requesting State party with information as soon as possible, but in any case not later than 10 days after the request. Our British colleagues are aware of that, but have been in no hurry to invoke the Convention to which they are a party. We demand material proof of the alleged Russian tracks discovered in this high-profile affair. Without that, the allegedly irrefutable data carry no weight. So far we have seen nothing, except claims that this is “highly likely”. In the circumstances, the right thing to do would be to ask the technical secretariat of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) to carry out an independent laboratory analysis of the samples in the possession of the British authorities. I would now like to say a few words about chemistry.
There has been no scientific research and development conducted in the Russian Federation on what has been dubbed Novichok. Starting in the early 1970s, a large number of countries established programmes for creating new types of nerve and paralytic agents, known as VX, in particular in the United States and the Soviet Union. Russia terminated Soviet development efforts in the area of chemical weapons, in accordance with a decree issued by the President of the Russian Federation in 1992. In 2017, the Russian Federation completed the destruction of all of its existing stocks of chemical weapons, as verified by the OPCW, the relevant international entity. Incidentally, the United States has still not destroyed its chemical-weapon capacities.
In the mid-1990s, Western secret services brought a number of our specialists to the West, whose names are well known, as well as a certain amount of documentation. Research in this area has continued in both the United Kingdom and the United States. The positive achieved by these two countries in creating new toxic substances that for some reason are classified in the West under the general name Novichok are confirmed and reflected in more than 200 NATO-country open sources. We have the references for them and are ready to provide them to the Council. The actual identification of the toxic substance alleged to have been used in the incident was done at Porton Down, the British Ministry of Defence’s research facility where the development and production of chemical weapons, including of this kind, is conducted. The most likely sources of this particular chemical are the countries that have been doing intensive research on such substances since the end of the 1990s, which include Great Britain.
We are not chemists here, so let me cite the opinion of a professional one. For the British specialists to state with complete confidence that this gas is Novichok and not something else, it would be essential for them to have a so-called control standard. In order to prove that it is the exact same compound, it has to be compared to that standard. Of necessity, if they state that this is a Novichok gas, they must have a standard for that substance. That means they have both a sample and a formula, and that is the most important piece of this whole story. In other words, if Great Britain is so dead certain that this is a Novichok gas, it has the formula and samples, and is itself capable of manufacturing it.
We are living in unusual times, and shocking things are happening before our very eyes. The presumption of innocence is in the process of being replaced by the presumption of guilt, and that principle of criminal law is now being transferred to international relations. Today Ambassador Haley, as if she were an experienced chemist and expert in that area, opined about Russia’s crimes. We have long been familiar with the fact that she needs no investigations to identify the guilty parties. In her letter the British Prime Minister of the United Kingdom says that her scenario is “highly likely”, but Mrs. Haley surpasses her trusty ally even in this.
If for the Soviet prosecutor Andrey Vyshinsky, confession was the queen of evidence, then today, in our Foreign Minister Lavrov’s apposite words, it is suspicion that now plays that role. There is no longer any need even to show the Council test tubes containing an unknown white substance; it is sufficient to write a letter making egregious accusations about a sovereign State. We have already seen that with respect to Syria, and now they are trying to add Russia to the list of violators of the Convention. I would like to remind the Council about the United Kingdom’s record of service in participating in illegal attacks on independent States, including on a basis of fake evidence. That led to immeasurable suffering among civilians in Yugoslavia, Iraq and Libya. Has the Council forgotten that Great Britain is notorious for being a State that has embraced the practice of targeted drone assassinations? In the context, hearing it heap invective on us is strange, and particularly so when it is based on no evidence.
There is a well-known principle in jurisprudence — and in life in general — “cui bono, or cui prodest”, meaning, who benefits? What do members think? Does this incident benefit Russia on the eve of its presidential elections and the World Cup football championship? I can think of several countries right away — although, in accordance with the principle of the presumption of innocence, I will not name them — for which this incident, and blaming Russia for it, would be extraordinarily beneficial and timely. What motive could the British Prime Minister possibly ascribe to Russia for liquidating Sergei Skripal, who, after his prosecution, sentencing, prison term, pardon and handover to the British authorities, no longer posed any kind of threat to my country? But he is perfect for the role of victim, who can be used to justify all sorts of unthinkable lies, smears and derogatory public relations aimed at blackening Russia’s reputation. We have been repeatedly warning that some kind of provocation along these lines could happen on the eve of major events. Today we are witnesses to the fact that the Government of the United Kingdom will stop at nothing to deliberately tarnish Russia.
In his stories about Sherlock Holmes, the classic British writer Arthur Conan Doyle, famed in his own country and very popular in Russia, features a somewhat incompetent and comic character, Inspector Lestrade of Scotland Yard. He is not terribly intelligent and deduction is not his forte. His role is to serve as a foil for Sherlock Holmes’s extraordinary detective powers. He instantly seizes on the superficial clues to a crime and rushes to draw obvious conclusions so that he can then be refuted by Holmes, who always discovers the real motive and clues behind the crime. God forbid I should suspect the current incumbents of Scotland Yard of unprofessionalism, although I do think that it would not hurt to have a Sherlock Holmes around today. Today, however, the people playing the role of the collective Inspector Lestrade are high-level members of the British Government, spouting irresponsible, unfounded, superficial, monstrous accusations that have far-reaching consequences. Russia calls on Britain’s Government officials to renounce these practices of their nineteenth-century imperial past — the language of ultimatums, unproven accusations and threats — give up their neocolonialist ways and to return to life under the law. In situations such as those described in Theresa May’s claims, the standard thing to do is to turn to instruments of legal assistance. To sum up, we would once again like to state the following.
Russia had nothing to do with this incident. We consider London’s ultimatums null and void. We expect the United Kingdom to act in strict compliance with the Chemical Weapons Convention and other relevant international instruments, including the European Convention on Mutual Assistance in Criminal Matters, as well as to provide samples of the substance that the British investigation refers to for joint investigation, since it says that it is of Russian origin. That is a mandatory requirement under the Convention, not an optional one. We are ready for an investigation. We have nothing to fear and nothing to hide. We have already spoken about the procedure in paragraph 2 of article IX of the Chemical Weapons Convention. If the clarifications provided are considered inadequate, we can turn to the OPCW’s governing bodies. That is the only civilized way to settle the issue. As long as we are being accused of violating the Convention with absolutely no proof, there is no other way to proceed. Until we can have a productive dialogue with specialists in this area we will not get anywhere. We are ready to cooperate openly and constructively within the framework of the OPCW.
In conclusion, we would like to circulate a draft press statement that sums up my statement and emphasizes the importance of activating the procedure in article IX of the Chemical Weapons Convention. We hope that all Council members will support it.
In response to the Chargén d'affaires a.i. of the Permanent Mission of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland:
I am not planning to engage in a detailed discussion with my British colleague. I have already said everything I wanted to say in my statement.
I just want to emphasize one thing, which is that we have not received a formal request, in line with the Chemical Weapons Convention, to which we were and remain ready to respond. We were given a 24-hour ultimatum. Once again, let me stress that we have no intention of responding in a tone or form like those of the unsubstantiated accusations made against us before we had the opportunity to respond. But we are ready to cooperate with the British Government in investigating this sad incident. In my opinion, nothing that I said earlier contradicts that.