Russia Condemned for 'Obstructing' Non-Proliferation Treaty Negotiations

Russia Condemned for 'Obstructing' Non-Proliferation Treaty Negotiations
Overview of Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant and fires, in Enerhodar in Zaporizhzhia region, Ukraine, on Aug. 24, 2022. (European Union, Copernicus Sentinel-2 imagery via Reuters)

Russia has been condemned for "obstructing" the tenth Review Conference of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) and stopping the international community from reaching a consensus on nuclear proliferation.

Australian Foreign Affairs Minister Penny Wong in a media release on Aug. 28 said that Russia's behaviour at the Review Conference was obstructive and challenged the core tenets upon which the NPT was founded.

"After four weeks of negotiations in New York, all state parties except Russia were ready to agree to a meaningful and balanced outcome across the treaty’s three pillars: disarmament, non-proliferation, and peaceful uses of nuclear energy," Wong said. "Russia has deliberately obstructed progress. Its actions directly challenge the core tenets of the NPT."

The NPT was originally signed in 1970. At the time of its implementation, it was decided by the signatories that every five years, they would review the Treaty. The last one was due in 2020; however, due to pandemic restrictions, it was delayed until 2022.

Wong also said the Australian government was disappointed a consensus could not be reached given the current state of the international security environment. All states were in agreement bar Russia.

"At the heart of the NPT is the goal of a world without nuclear weapons, a goal to which Australia remains deeply committed," the foreign minister said. "Irrespective of this outcome, the treaty continues to deliver tangible security benefits to us all."

Wong also called on the international community to redouble its efforts to achieve a world free of nuclear weapons.

Russia Accuses Western States of Holding NPT Hostage

The comments from Wong came after the deputy head of the Russian delegation, Andrei Belousov, said Russia would not support the draft agreement and accused fellow delegates of having an anti-Russia stance during his closing statement.

"Having pushed their priorities into the draft of the final document, these states did everything they could to ensure that issues important to other delegations were left out," Belousov said on Aug. 26.

"The Conference has become a political hostage to those states that over the last four weeks have been poisoning discussions with their politicized, biased, groundless and false statements with regard to Ukraine. Thus, they did everything they could to prevent a constructive, effective and result-oriented work of the Conference and as a whole of the NPT states parties during the entire review process.

"A major sticking point in the draft treaty was the Russian occupation of the Zaporizhzhya nuclear power plant (NPP), which the Russian delegation head said had been subjected to "barbaric shelling" by Ukrainian defence forces bringing "the world to the brink of nuclear disaster."

He also accused the states involved of focusing on Ukrainian issues and using the Review Conference to "settle scores with Russia by raising issues that are not directly related to the Treaty."

"Such an approach of these states runs counter to the NPT's priorities of creating an international environment conducive to progress toward nuclear disarmament, which requires the joint efforts of nuclear and non-nuclear-weapon States," he said. "These states, namely Ukraine and the backers of the Kyiv regime, bear full responsibility for the absence of a final positive result of this review."

US Calls on Russia to Stop 'War of Choice'

Meanwhile, the United States Ambassador Adam Scheinman in his closing statement (pdf) to the conference, said the U.S. recognized the draft treaty was not perfect, and it understated the risk of radiological disaster from the Russian-occupied Zaporizhzhya NPP

"Let’s be clear. Russia is the one undermining all three pillars of the NPT through its actions in Ukraine. Russia is the one that’s invaded a sovereign country in violation of the UN Charter and contrary to the security assurances given to Ukraine under the Budapest Memorandum. Russia is the one whose war puts Europe, Ukraine, and its own people at risk of a radiological disaster," Scheinman said.

The Ukrainian government has called for Russian forces to vacate Zaporizhzhya, with the Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba calling for Russia to get out of the plant.

"For decades, nuclear safety has remained Ukraine’s top priority, especially given our tragic past," Kuleba wrote on Twitter." Russian invaders turned Zaporizhzhya NPP into a military base putting the entire continent at risk. Russian military must get out of the plant — they have nothing to do there!"

Victoria Kelly-Clark is an Australian based reporter who focuses on national politics and the geopolitical environment in the Asia-pacific region, the Middle East and Central Asia.