Novichok? What Novichok? New US sanctions urge Russia to destroy chemical weapons stockpile, but Kremlin insists it already has

Russian officials are puzzled by demands from Washington to scrap their country’s chemical weapons program, President Vladimir Putin’s spokesman has said, arguing that the country has already disposed of all such substances.

Speaking to reporters on Thursday, Dmitry Peskov slammed America’s warning that Moscow must register and eliminate stores of nerve agents, toxic gases and other poisons, or else face sanctions. “Russia declared and verified the destruction of all chemical weapons on its territory many years ago and fully complied with international conventions,” he said. “Russia has no chemical weapons.”

“By the way,” the Kremlin press secretary added, “we expect that our counterparts will also comply with these conventions.” In 1991, then-US President George H.W. Bush committed his country to destroying all chemical weapons. However, the process has not been straightforward and works to decommission the US Army’s Pueblo Chemical Depot in Colorado are still underway. The facility had originally hosted more than 780,000 munitions, including mustard gas shells. The process is expected to be complete by 2023.

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Russia, by contrast, declared it had eliminated all of its chemical weapons stockpiles in 2017. However, Washington is said to believe that Moscow is running a shadowy re-armament program and has requested access to facilities it says are involved in the development and manufacture of chemical agents.

The US State Department reportedly told the RBK news channel earlier this week that Russia could escape a second round of economic sanctions if it complied with its request to disclose and destroy those purported weapons. At the same time, it unveiled a package of sanctions aimed at 12 organizations in Russia, Germany and Switzerland that it claimed were involved in their production.

American officials point to the alleged poisoning of opposition figure Alexey Navalny with what his team, and a number of international observers, claim was the nerve agent Novichok. First developed under the Soviet Union from 1971, the family of poisonous compounds are said to be among the deadliest ever made. Russia denies involvement in the incident, which saw Navalny transferred to Berlin in a comatose state, and insists its requests for the German government to provide samples for testing have gone unanswered.

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