A group of 45 Western countries on Tuesday demanded from the world toxic arms watchdog that Russia provide urgent answers on the poisoning of Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny.
Moscow now has 10 days to respond to questions posed by the EU and countries like the United States, Canada and Australia, under the rules of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW).
Western nations say opposition leader Navalny was poisoned in Russia with the Soviet-era nerve agent Novichok in August last year. He was treated in Germany before returning to Russia, where he is now in jail.
Moscow has always denied its involvement in the Navalny poisoning.
“It is essential that Russia lay out in detail the steps taken to investigate and shed light on the use of a chemical weapon on its territory,” the statement from the 45 countries said.
They also asked Russia to explain why it had delayed a visit by OPCW inspectors to investigate Novichok’s claims.
“Russia has 10 days to respond,” British delegates said in a tweet.
The US State Department said it had concluded that agents from Russia’s FSB intelligence agency had poisoned Navalny using Novichok, which it said only Russia possesses.
“There can be no impunity for such actions,” he said in a statement. “Russia’s continuing lack of transparency and cooperation around the poisoning is particularly concerning.”
The Hague-based OPCW has previously confirmed that Navalny samples supplied by Germany tested positive for Novichok.
If Russia’s responses are deemed unsatisfactory, countries have the right, under the Chemical Weapons Convention, to ask Moscow for further “clarification” and then to a group of experts to investigate.
If the issue is still unresolved after 60 days, they can convene special sessions of the OPCW’s executive council, its 41-member policy-making body that meets this week, and, if necessary, of the 193 member states of the OPCW. OPCW.
Countries deemed not to be complying with the Chemical Weapons Convention may have their voting rights suspended, as happened in April with Russia’s ally Syria.
Western states also called on Syria this week to allow weapons inspectors in, saying Damascus continues to breach its obligations to the OPCW.
Navalny himself has blamed Russian President Vladimir Putin for the attack. The opposition leader was arrested upon his return from treatment in Germany last January and jailed on longstanding fraud charges.
Meanwhile, Britain said it would continue to pressure Russia over a 2018 Novichok attack on a former double agent in the English city of Salisbury.
Sergei Skripal and his daughter were left fighting for their lives after the attack, while a police officer investigating the case fell seriously ill and a local woman who came into contact with the nerve agent later died.