Russia blocks final document at nuclear treaty conference
PTI, August 27, 2022, 08:01 IST
Image Credit: AP Photo/John Minchillo, File
The United Nations: On Friday night, Russia blocked an agreement on the outcome document of a four-week review of the UN treaty seen as the cornerstone of nuclear disarmament that criticized its military takeover of the largest nuclear power plant in Europe shortly after Russian troops invaded Ukraine, an act that raised fears of a nuclear accident.
Igor Vishnevetsky, deputy director of the Russian Foreign Ministry’s Non-Proliferation and Arms Control Department, told the delayed final meeting of the conference reviewing the 50-year-old nuclear non-proliferation treaty that “unfortunately , there is no consensus on this document”. He insisted that many countries – not just Russia – disagreed with “a whole host of issues” in the latest 36-page draft.
The document was to be endorsed by the 191 countries that are parties to the treaty aimed at curbing the spread of nuclear weapons and ultimately achieving a world without them.
Argentinian Ambassador Gustavo Zlauvinen, chairman of the conference, said the final draft represented his best efforts to respond to the differing views and expectations of the parties “for a gradual outcome” at a time in history when “our world is increasingly wracked by conflict, and, most alarmingly, the ever-growing prospect of the unthinkable nuclear war.
But after Vishnevetsky’s speech, Zlauvinen told delegates: “I see that at this stage the conference is not able to come to an agreement on its substantive work.”
The NPT Review Conference is supposed to be held every five years, but has been delayed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. This marked the second failure of its states parties to produce an outcome document.
The last review conference in 2015 ended without an agreement due to serious differences over the establishment of a zone in the Middle East free of weapons of mass destruction.
These differences have not gone away but are being discussed, and draft final documents obtained by The Associated Press reportedly reaffirmed the importance of establishing a nuclear-free zone in the Middle East. It was therefore not seen as a major stumbling block this year.
The issue that changed the dynamics of the conference was Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, which prompted Russian President Vladimir Putin to warn that Russia is a “powerful” nuclear power and that any attempt to interfere would lead to “consequences that you have never seen”. He also put the Russian nuclear forces on high alert.
Putin has since backed down, saying “a nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought”, a message reiterated by a senior Russian official on the opening day of the NPT conference on August 2.
But the initial threat from the Russian leader and the occupation of the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant in southeastern Ukraine as well as the takeover of the Chernobyl nuclear power plant, scene of the world’s worst nuclear disaster in 1986, rekindled global fears of a new nuclear emergency.
Earlier this week, US Ambassador to the UN Linda Thomas-Greenfield told the Security Council that the Biden administration was seeking a consensual outcome document that strengthens the nuclear treaty and recognizes “the way in which war and Russia’s irresponsible actions in Ukraine are seriously undermining the main objective of the NPT.
Russian Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia accused the United States and its allies at this council meeting of “politicizing the work on the final document, placing their geopolitical interests in punishing Russia above their collective needs to strengthen the global security”.
“In the context of the real sabotage by the collective West of the global security architecture, Russia continues to do everything possible to keep at least its key and vital elements afloat,” Nebenzia said.
The four references in the draft outcome document to the factory in Zaporizhzhia, where Russia and Ukraine accuse each other of bombing, would have caused NPT parties to express “serious concern about military activities” in or proximity to the facility and other nuclear power plants.
He also reportedly acknowledged Ukraine’s loss of control and the International Atomic Energy Agency’s inability to guarantee the safety of the plant’s nuclear materials. He supported IAEA efforts to visit Zaporizhzhia to ensure there is no diversion of its nuclear materials. The director of the agency hopes to get organized in the coming days.
The draft expressed “serious concern” about the security of Ukrainian nuclear installations, in particular in Zaporizhzia, and underlined “the paramount importance of ensuring control by the competent Ukrainian authorities”.