Russia blocks final draft of nuclear disarmament treaty at UN

Moscow objected to parts of the draft statement, which included concerns about Russia’s seizure of Europe’s largest nuclear power plant in Ukraine.

Russia has blocked the adoption of a joint declaration on the United Nations’ nuclear disarmament treaty, which criticised Moscow’s military takeover of Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant in Ukraine.

Igor Vishnevetsky, deputy director of the Russian Foreign Ministry’s Non-Proliferation and Arms Control Department, said the final draft, which was more than 30 pages long, lacked “balance”.

“Our delegation has one key objection on some paragraphs which are blatantly political in nature,” he said, adding that Russia was not the only country to take issue with the draft text.

The Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), which 191 signatories review every five years, aims to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons, promote complete disarmament and promote cooperation in the peaceful use of nuclear energy.

The nations have been gathered at the UN headquarters in New York since August 1, participating in a month of negotiations, including a final session that was postponed for several hours on Friday.

Adam Scheinman, the US special representative for nuclear nonproliferation, noted the final draft never named Russia, and he said it understated the situation at the Zaporizhzhia plant [File: Alexander Ermochenko/Reuters)

The conference’s president, Gustavo Zlauvinen of Argentina, said it was “not in a position to achieve agreement” after Russia took issue with the text.

The latest draft text had expressed “grave concern” over military activities around Ukrainian power plants, including Zaporizhzhia, as well as over Ukraine’s loss of control of such sites and the negative effect on safety.

The signatories discussed a number of other hot-button topics during the conference, including Iran’s nuclear programme and North Korean nuclear tests.

At the last review conference in 2015, the parties were also unable to reach an agreement on substantive issues. The review conference scheduled to be held in 2020 was delayed because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

‘Nuclear annihilation’

At the opening of this year’s conference, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres warned that the world faced “a nuclear danger not seen since the height of the Cold War”.

“Today, humanity is just one misunderstanding, one miscalculation away from nuclear annihilation,” Guterres said.

Adam Scheinman, the US special representative for nuclear nonproliferation, noted the final draft never named Russia, and he said it understated the situation at the Zaporizhzhia plant.

“Russia is the reason we do not have consensus today,” he said. “The last-minute changes that Russia sought were not of a minor character. They were intended to shield Russia’s obvious intent to wipe Ukraine off the map.”

Indonesia, speaking on behalf of the Non-Aligned Movement comprising 120 developing countries, expressed disappointment at the failure, calling the final document “of utmost importance”.

Rebecca Johnson, the founding president of the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons, said she was disappointed with the outcome.

“It’s very disappointing but it should not be surprising,” she told Al Jazeera.

“The NPT has been failing for a long time because it is essentially used by nuclear-armed states to reinforce the validity that they attach to nuclear weapons. Here it’s taking place at a time when Russia has launched an invasion against Ukraine but also threatened the use of nuclear weapons in which deterrence has clearly failed.”

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