9. US obligations under the Treaty on Open Skies (OST)
Regrettably, the State Department report fails to mention the problems with the OST implementation the United States has itself.
1. In 2017, the US cancelled overnight accommodation stops for observation aircraft crews at Robins and Ellsworth AFB refueling airfields, which is a breach of the observing party’s right to perform observation flights at a maximum range considering the maximum crew working time load. And this has much to do with flight safety.
2. Russia has paid great attention to working in a Small Group format and insisted on a “package solution” meeting the interests of both the United States and other party states, including Russia. After we offered our principled assessment of the selective US proposal, the US representatives chose to cease cooperation in this format.
3. Contrary to the OST provisions, the Americans put forward a demand on observation flight planning at the Travis point of entry, which is in contradiction with Article VI of the Treaty, under which the observing party submits a mission plan to the observed party after its arrival at the Open Skies airfield, whereas Travis is not such an airfield.
4. In violation of the Treaty, the United States has imposed the maximum distance for flights over the Hawaii Islands from the Hickam AFB refuelling airfield. At the same time, under the OST, the maximum distance for flights is established only for Open Skies airfields and calculated in accordance with certain rules. For this reason, the 900-kilometres distance over this part of the US territory is clearly underestimated and should cover at least 1,160 kilometers.
5. The United States has introduced restrictions for observation flights over the Aleutian Islands, under which the aircraft of the observing party should always remain within the external boundary of the adjacent zone extending for 24 nautical miles from the coast. This restriction, which the Treaty does not stipulate, considerably reduces the observation flight efficiency.
10. The Convention on the Prohibition of the Development, Production and Stockpiling of Bacteriological (Biological) and Toxin Weapons and on Their Destruction (BWC)
The United States is yet again basing its claims against Russia on conjectures about alleged interconnection between Soviet military biological programmes and Russia's peaceful research in the field of microbiology. The Russian Federation once again notes the groundless nature of these conjectures and underscores that all issues regarding biological research in the Soviet Union related to the BWC have long since been completely resolved. We consider such US speculations as an attempt to divert the attention of the international community from its own improper activities in such a sensitive sphere as biology.
We again have to point out the incident with the circulation of anthrax spores from Salomon laboratory in the US state of Utah, which nearly caused a disaster in the countries where this deadly cargo was shipped to.
We are increasingly concerned about the Pentagon’s activities to deploy its biomedical laboratories in various parts of the world, including in the immediate vicinity of Russia’s borders. The so-called “Richard Lugar Centre for Public Health Research”, which is a high-level laboratory of biological isolation located in the suburbs of Tbilisi is the most indicative example in this regard. It is home to a medical research division of the US Army, which is a branch of the US Walter Reed Army Institute of Research. As it is known, this military unit of the US Army conducts research of particularly dangerous infectious diseases. The US and Georgian authorities are making efforts to conceal the true content and focus of the projects being implemented in the suburbs of Tbilisi. The Pentagon is trying to introduce the same camouflaged military medical and biological facilities in other CIS states.
Given that the United States has not yet withdrawn its reservation to the Geneva Protocol of 1925, which prohibits the use of bacteriological weapons, the question of the true goals of such US military biological activity in the post-Soviet space is quite reasonable.
Our concerns are further exacerbated by the interpretation of the BWC provisions presented in the current US report whereby the Convention, while prohibiting the development of biological weapons, allegedly does not cover research in this area. It appears that while developing large-scale biomedical activities, the United States is using such an interpretation of the provisions of the Convention for its purposes that clearly contradict the BWC.
We urge the United States to be as responsible as Russia in fulfilling its obligations under the BWC, to take concrete steps to address above-mentioned concerns, and to strengthen this disarmament instrument, which is important for international security.
11. The Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC)
For the past several years the US Department of State has attempted to dispute completeness of Russia’s declaration under Article III of the CWC and consequently to cast a shadow on the competence and authority of the OPCW which has been known as the most efficient and successful international organisation in the field of disarmament and WMD non-proliferation. Unlike Washington, the OPCW has no grievances against Russia.
This year again, guided by the unsubstantiated and completely groundless allegations of Russia’s imaginary involvement in poisoning Russian citizens Sergey and Yulia Skripal with a nerve agent in Salisbury, UK, the United States has blatantly accused Russia of violating CWC’s Article I. We repeatedly made known our position on this issue.
One should not forget that it is not Russia but the United States remaining the only CWC State Party which still owns a substantial chemical weapons arsenal. Moreover, it is also well-known from the open sources that the know-how to use full-fledged military-grade chemical weapons, including nerve agents, has been patented in the USA. Overall, some 140 patents of such a kind have been issued.
It was the most blatant violation of international law and, accordingly, the CWC when the United States backed by Great Britain and France hit civilian and government facilities in Syria with missiles on April 14 in response to the alleged chemical attack by the Syrian government on Douma, a suburb of Damascus, on April 7. The strike was delivered at the time when OPCW inspectors were about to depart for Douma to launch the investigation. There are reasons to believe that the missile blow was aimed to hinder the work of the OPCW officials and to prevent them from conducting an objective investigation.
Washington has yet to provide any evidence to prove its claims that the chemical weapons, which were allegedly used in Khan Sheikhoun in Syria last year, had been stored at the Shayrat Airbase. In other words, Washington acted in violation of international law, as well as the CWC, when it did not invoke its right to request an OPCW challenge inspection under CWC’s Article IX. Moreover, the Americans and their allies blocked the adoption of the OPCW Executive Council decision to launch a thorough and objective investigation on the site of the alleged chemical incident in Khan Sheikhoun without any further delay and to conduct an inspection of the Shayrat Airbase by the OPCW team.
The United States does not comply with its own obligations under the CWC, failing to declare its abandoned chemical weapons on the territory of other states. In particular, Washington has not admitted the ownership of phosgene bombs, abandoned in Panama, despite the experts of the OPCW Technical Secretariat had ascertained the US origin of those weapons back in 2002. The United States simply shifted the responsibility for the destruction of those weapons onto the Panamanian authorities.
It was back in 2012 when a number of US chemical weapons’ underground burials were found in Cambodia with their origin having been ascertained by the OPCW special commission. In essence, the United States has stayed away from doing anything to resolve the problem. The Cambodian authorities forwarded the detailed and documented information on those weapons to the OPCW Technical Secretariat to receive assistance in their destruction.
The United States shall assume a more responsible attitude to the use of chemical weapons by non-state actors in the Middle East. For this purpose, the United States should act within the framework of its obligations under the UN Security Council resolutions 2118, 2209 and 2235 and share with the UN Security Council the evidence, collected by the US military personnel in Iraqi Kurdistan in 2015 and 2016, which sheds the light on the crimes, committed by the ISIS and other terrorist groups, involving the chemical weapons’ use.
According to information published by The New York Times in 2014 and later confirmed officially, during the occupation of Iraq by the coalition forces in 2003-2009 the US Department of Defense found or purchased from the local population some 5,000 chemical weapons munitions, which had been manufactured under Saddam Hussein’s rule. At the same time the USA did not notify the OPCW about its actions, though it should have done so under the CWC, and carried out destruction of those munitions in Iraq without proper verification, employing a method of an open-air detonation which was unsafe for the people and environment. Some US soldiers and Iraqi citizens have suffered from the exposure to those chemical warfare agents.
The numerous Russian requests under paragraph 1 of the CWC’s Article IX to gain access to the archive materials of the OPCW Technical Secretariat on the issue were ignored.
It should also be noted that the US Congress imposed several conditions in the ratification documents on the US accession to the CWC that were quite contradictory to Washington’s obligations under the CWC. In particular, the US president and his administration are obliged to act contrary to the Convention ‘when necessary’: for example, to prohibit the overseas transfer of any samples collected in the United States; to restrict the challenge inspections in the USA by the OPCW experts at the request of other states to address concerns about possible noncompliance with the Convention; to keep in force the Executive Order of the US President #11850 dated April 8, 1975, which allowed the use of riot control agents as a method of warfare in certain cases, contrary to Article I of the CWC.
The United States maintains its reservation to the 1925 Geneva Protocol for the Prohibition of the Use in War of Asphyxiating, Poisonous or Other Gases, and of Bacteriological Methods of Warfare, thus allowing itself to use lethal and incapacitating chemical weapons as a retaliatory measure, that is contrary to Article I of the CWC as well.
* Issued by Anton Gorelov, First Secretary Russian Embassy to Botswana