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Russia blocks document at nuclear talks

Russia has blocked agreement on the final document of a four-week review of the UN treaty considered the cornerstone of nuclear disarmament.

The document criticised Russia’s military takeover of Europe’s largest nuclear plant soon after Russian troops invaded Ukraine, an act that has raised fears of a nuclear disaster.

Igor Vishnevetsky, deputy director of the Russian Foreign Ministry’s Non-Proliferation and Arms Control Department, told the delayed final meeting of the conference reviewing the 50-year-old Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty that “unfortunately there is no consensus on this document”.

He insisted many countries – not just Russia – didn’t agree with “a whole host of issues” in the 36-page last draft.

The final document needed approval of all countries at the conference that are parties to the treaty aimed at curbing the spread of nuclear weapons and ultimately achieving a world without them.

The NPT review conference is supposed to be held every five years but was delayed because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

This marked the second failure of its 191 state parties to produce an outcome document. The last review conference in 2015 ended without an agreement because of serious differences over establishing a Middle East zone free of weapons of mass destruction.

Those differences haven’t gone away but are being discussed, and the draft outcome documents would have reaffirmed the importance of establishing a nuclear-free Mideast zone. So, this was not viewed as a major stumbling block this year.

The issue that changed the dynamics of the conference was Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on February 24, which brought President Vladimir Putin’s warning Russia is a “potent” nuclear power and that any attempt to interfere would lead to “consequences you have never seen”. He also put Russia’s nuclear forces on high alert.

Putin has since rolled back, saying that “a nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought”, a message reiterated by a senior Russian official on the opening day of the NPT conference on August 2.

But the Russian leader’s initial threat and the occupation of the Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant in southeastern Ukraine as well as the takeover of the Chernobyl nuclear plant, scene of the world’s worst nuclear disaster in 1986, renewed global fears of another nuclear emergency.

The four references in the draft final document to the Zaporizhzhia plant, where Russia and Ukraine accuse each other of shelling, would have had the parties to the NPT express “grave concern for the military activities” at or near the facility and other nuclear plants.

It also would have recognised Ukraine’s loss of control and the International Atomic Energy Agency’s inability to ensure the plant’s nuclear material is safeguarded. It supported IAEA efforts to visit Zaporizhzhia to ensure there is no diversion of its nuclear materials, a trip the agency’s director is hoping to organise in the coming days.

The draft also expressed “grave concern” at the safety of Ukraine’s nuclear facilities, in particular Zaporizhzia, and stressed “the paramount importance of ensuring control by Ukraine’s competent authorities.”

After the conference’s failure to adopt the document, dozens of countries took the floor to express deep concern Russia is undermining international peace and the objectives of the NPT “by waging its illegal war of aggression against Ukraine”.

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