Western powers are looking at taking measures against Russia at the global chemical weapons body over alleged nerve agent attacks, the US ambassador to the watchdog said Monday.
US envoy Joseph Manso also blamed Moscow for the failure last week of the Hague-based Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) to agree a new five-year roadmap.
Tensions at the OPCW have soared since its investigators found that the Soviet-era nerve agent Novichok was used against Kremlin opponent Alexei Navalny in Russia in 2020, and against a former Russian spy in England in 2018.
“The United States and many countries are concerned about Russian non-compliance, and Russian non-compliance is at the heart of the problems at the OPCW,” Manso told AFP in an interview.
“We’re going to keep looking for what the right tools are to bring Russia into compliance. It is not something we’re going to forget about.”
Asked if this could include seeking to suspend Moscow’s voting rights at the OPCW, a sanction used against the Syrian government in 2021 over its use of chemical weapons during its civil war, Manso said he was “not going to specifically include anything and I’m not going to specifically exclude anything”.
“One approach would be to sanction the Russians. That may or may not work… It’s an idea, but it’s not US government policy,” he said.
The Russian issue will “very much” be discussed when the watchdog’s policy-making body meets in July and at the annual meeting of its 193 member states at the end of the year, Manso said.
Russia has denied involvement in the poisoning of Navalny, and in the Novichok attack on former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter in the English town of Salisbury in 2018, which left one woman dead.
During last week’s five-yearly meeting of OPCW states to assess progress on a 1997 agreement to eradicate chemical weapons, Russia accused the West of “politicising” the regulator.
The meeting failed to agree on a final document that would have set out its priorities for the next five years.
The US envoy pinned the blame on Moscow and its allies Syria, Iran and China. “Our Russian colleagues were not so flexible,” Manso said.
But the ambassador said the Nobel Peace Prize-winning OPCW had a “bright future” despite the lack of agreement, and a role in preventing the “re-emergence” of toxic arms.
The watchdog is set to mark a “milestone” when the US destroys the last of its chemical weapons in September, completing the process of eliminating the world’s declared toxic arms stockpiles, he said.
But Manso said that fears of chemical weapons use by Russia in Ukraine were still a “concern”, and that Syria’s readmission to the Arab League did not change the need for “accountability” for its chemical weapons use.