U.S. Can’t Ignore Russia’s Chemical Weapons Development

U.S. Can't Ignore Russia's Chemical Weapons Development

The U.S. presidential administration has placed two Russian facilities suspected of developing chemical weapons on the Commerce Department’s blacklist.

The report that a clandestine unit of Russia’s FSB used a chemical nerve agent in an assassination attempt on opposition leader Alexei Navalny is actually alarming. That’s what The Washington Post writes.

The publication writes that it looks like Russian President Vladimir Putin used the FSB to kill his leading critic and rival. It also suggests that Russia has grossly violated the Chemical Weapons Convention, an international treaty it has signed and ratified. At the same time, American President Donald Trump’s response has been virtually nil, but the U.S. cannot do nothing.

In October, Bellingcat and its partners reported that Russian research institutes continue to work on a class of Cold War-era military nerve agents known as Novichok at facilities disguised as civilian research.

The Chemical Weapons Convention prohibits the development, production, acquisition, stockpiling, maintenance, transfer, or use of chemical weapons. At the same time, Putin says that Russia is clearly fulfilling its obligations.

However, recent reports suggest otherwise. A new investigation published by Bellingcat, along with news organizations Insider, Der Spiegel and CNN, has exposed a clandestine FSB unit that specializes in poisonous substances.

The investigation, using phone records and air traffic data, documented years of surveillance on Navalny starting in 2017, shortly after he first announced his intention to run for president of Russia. Throughout 2017, and again in 2019 and 2020, FSB officers in this clandestine unit tracked his flights. Navalny was poisoned on a flight from Tomsk to Moscow on August 20. The plane made an emergency landing in Omsk, where Navalny received medical treatment before being evacuated to Berlin.

Laboratories in three countries and the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons have confirmed the use of Novichokgrade agents against Navalny. In addition, the Bellingcat investigation identified members of the FSB unit with names, photos and surveillance details.

“I know who wanted to kill me. I know where they live. I know where they work,” Navalny said.

Bellingcat’s information suggests that the FSB, a law enforcement agency, serves as Putin’s “extrajudicial assassination squad.” Although the Chemical Weapons Convention provides for the development of antidotes and protection against chemical weapons, the production and use of Novichok-class agents to poison Navalny is a brazen violation of the treaty.

The U.S. response is important. Last month, the House passed a resolution calling for tough action, and a bipartisan group of senators proposed sanctions. However, when a reporter asked Trump on Sept. 21 who was involved in poisoning Navalny, the U.S. president replied that he would talk about it another time.

The U.S. president’s administration has placed two Russian facilities suspected of developing chemical weapons on the Commerce Department’s blacklist. These actions are not enough.

Newly elected President Joe Biden should make it clear that the U.S. will not turn a blind eye to such dangerous behavior by Russia and will impose tough sanctions on Russian officials.