Russia has reportedly summoned the Dutch ambassador in protest after the Netherlands exposed Moscow’s attempts to hack into the computers of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons.
In a report cited by Tass and other Russian state news agencies on Monday, the Russian foreign ministry said it would summon Renée Jones-Bos over “the misinformation campaign launched in The Hague”.
The move marks Russia’s first official response following a coordinated release of evidence by UK, US and Dutch officials to expose Russian military intelligence operations abroad.
Russia is set to hit back at the west this week at a long-planned meeting of the world’s chemical weapons watchdog.
Moscow will accuse western countries of trying to subvert the OPCW’s aims and turn it into a propaganda tool.
The clash will take place at a three-day meeting, which starts on Tuesday, of the OPCW executive council in The Hague.
Russia’s ministry of foreign affairs has claimed last week’s joint Dutch-UK revelations were timed to soften up public opinion before the executive meeting.
OPCW staff and executive members have known about the hacking allegations for some time, but did not know about the quality of evidence linked to Russian agents from its GRU military intelligence agency.
The OPCW has endorsed British claims that novichok nerve agent, only available to Russia, was used in the poisoning of the former spy Sergei Skripal in Salisbury. Russia is likely to object to these findings at the meeting.
It is also expected to challenge funding for plans to extend the OPCW’s mandate to try to identify perpetrators of chemical weapons use in Syria. At present, the OPCW is only required to undertake fact-finding missions that rule whether there has been a breach of the chemical weapons convention.
An OPCW inquiry into the possible Syrian government links to a chemical weapons strike in Douma, near Damascus, has yet to be completed. The interim report was inconclusive, and an update of the inquiry may be given at the executive meeting. Russia has denied any chemical weapons were used and accused British intelligence of staging the attacks. The Douma incident led to punitive cruise missile strikes by France, the UK and the US.
The new attribution mandate, agreed at a stormy OPCW executive meeting in June, is likely to lead to a €4m increase in its budget and the establishment of a special office for attribution, with 10 new staff. It plans to take on four attribution cases in 2019.
Russia has complained that the OPCW has been taken over by western interests, which have given western scientists and laboratories too much influence. It has threatened to walk out of the body.
In a sign of Russian diplomatic activity over the issue, Russia’s leader, Vladimir Putin, last week met Narendra Modi, the Indian prime minister, to secure his agreement to block “the politicisation of the OPCW”.
British sources believe the Russian hack may have been designed to glean information on both the Salisbury and Douma inquiries. Russia, as a member of the OPCW, would have access to many routine emails and documents from the OPCW’s bureaucracy, but not the progress of specific ongoing inquiries, or British requests.
In a note submitted for this week’s meeting, Russia said British claims that only Russia had access to novichok are “groundless and misleading to the international community. The Russian Federation has never developed produced or otherwise acquired stockpiled or retained toxic chemical weapons.”
The Russian note said about 20 states have been involved in the production of novichok-class weapons. It claimed the word novichok “has been put into general circulation offhandedly by British political manipulators”.
The note added: “It is regrettable that the OPCW technical secretariat is being drawn wittingly or unwittingly into the unscrupulous political game by Britain and its allies who do not care about the convention.”
There is nothing in the chemical weapons convention, the Russian delegation complained, that would require the technical secretariat to assist a member state in confirming the result of its national investigation.
The dispute between Russia and the UK over attribution of chemical weapons use has lasted more than a year. Last November, Russia was accused of protecting Syria by preventing the UN renewing the mandate for the body charged with attributing chemical weapons use. Russia claims previous attributions to the Syrian regime did not use compelling first-hand evidence.
- Sergei Skripal
- Novichok poisonings
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