Chemical weapons watchdog adds Novichok to banned list

Member states of the global chemical weapons watchdog have agreed to update their list of banned substances for the first time by adding the nerve agent used in the attempted assassination last year of a Russian former double agent

The decision to add Novichok nerve agents to the Chemical Weapons Convention was reached by consensus at the annual meeting of the 193 member states of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons.

Novichok joins agents including sarin, ricin and sulfur mustard on the convention’s so-called Schedule 1 of banned substances.

The change was proposed by the United States, Canada and the Netherlands.

Officials at the Russian Embassy didn’t return a call seeking details of their proposal and the OPCW didn’t elaborate on it.

The convention, which outlaws the production and use of chemical weapons, came into force in 1997.

Novichok was developed by the Soviet Union during the Cold War. It rose to infamy when it was used in the attempted assassination in March 2018 of Russian spy turned double agent Sergei Skripal.

Britain accused Russia of the March 2018 attack on Skripal and his daughter, Yulia, in the English town of Salisbury. Moscow denied involvement.

Dutch Foreign Minister Stef Blok said in a tweet: “I fully support this strong response to the #Salisbury chemical attack!”

OPCW Director-General Fernando Arias welcomed the decision after the chairman of the annual meeting banged his gavel to indicate that the proposal had been approved without a vote.

“This is the first time in its history that the Chemical Weapons Convention’s Annex on Chemicals has been updated,” Arias said. “This is an important development that demonstrates the adaptability of the convention to changing threats while enhancing the OPCW’s ability to remain vigilant, agile, and fit for purpose.”

The changes come into force 180 days after Arias informs the U.N. secretary-general of the updated list.