Security

Syria, Russia under pressure over chemical weapons

By Al-Mashareq and AFP

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A mock offer of 'Novichok Tea' is seen in front of an effigy of Russian President Vladimir Putin outside the Russian embassy in Berlin during a September 23, 2020, protest. [Odd Andersen/AFP]

THE HAGUE -- Syria and Russia faced renewed pressure over alleged chemical weapons use as the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) met in The Hague on Monday (November 29).

OPCW head Fernando Arias said the Syrian regime has failed to declare its chemical weapons and admit inspectors.

The nerve agent poisoning of jailed Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny in Russia meanwhile continues to pose a "serious threat" to world efforts to eradicate chemical armaments, Arias said.

Syria was stripped of its OPCW voting rights in April after a probe blamed it for further poison gas attacks, and it will remain suspended until it has fully declared its chemical weapons and weapons-making facilities.

"To date Syria has not completed any of these measures," Arias said, adding that its declarations "still cannot be considered accurate and complete".

The Syrian regime of Bashar al-Assad has denied a visa to an OPCW weapons inspector, leading the organisation to refuse to deploy a team there, Arias said.

US envoy to the United Nations Linda Thomas-Greenfield in March accused the Syrian regime of seeking to avoid accountability by "obstructing independent investigations and undermining the role and work" of the OPCW.

She also accused the regime's allies, in particular Russia, of seeking to block all efforts to pursue accountability.

Unanswered questions

Russia has been accused of failing to answer questions about the 2020 Novichok poisoning of Navalny, which is widely blamed on the Kremlin.

"The use of chemical weapons on the territory of the Russian Federation also poses a serious threat to the convention," Arias said.

Moscow asked OPCW inspectors to come to Russia to investigate, but Arias said the visit had not taken place because the Russian authorities set conditions that were stricter than those imposed by other countries.

"We call again on Russia and the al-Assad regime to comply with their obligations," Bonnie Jenkins, the US under secretary of state for arms control and international security, said in a statement to the meeting.

British junior defence minister Annabel Goldie said Russia must not only answer questions on Navalny but also the Novichok poisoning of former KGB agent Sergei Skripal in Salisbury in 2018.

"There is no plausible explanation for these poisonings other than Russian involvement and responsibility," Goldie said.

Moscow denies involvement in either incident.

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