India abstains from voting on Moscow's proposal for probe into attack on Russian spy

Treading cautiously, New Delhi has abstained from voting on a proposal by Moscow in the Organization for Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) for a "joint investigation" into the recent nerve-agent attack on a former spy of Russia at Salisbury in England.

Moscow's proposal was voted down by the OPCW Executive Council at a meeting held in its headquarters in The Hague late on Wednesday. Apart from Russia, five other nations Iran, China, Azerbaijan, Sudan and Algeria voted in favour of the proposal, but 15 of the 41 members of the OPCW Executive Council voted against it. India and 16 other countries abstained from voting.

Moscow has been accused by UK Government of carrying out the nerve-agent attack on former Russian military intelligence agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia at Salisbury in England.

The OPCW Executive Council met in The Hague after Moscow proposed a joint investigation with the participation of Russia into the incident. "The Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) is a unique non-discriminatory multilateral instrument which continues to serve as a model disarmament treaty," Venu Rajamony, Permanent Representative of India to the OPCW, said, presenting New Delhi's view at the meeting.

The 192-member OPCW is an intergovernmental organisation, which oversees implementation of the CWC that was inked in 1997 to outlaw production, stockpiling and use of chemical weapons.

"It is important to maintain the credibility and integrity of the Convention. India has, therefore, maintained that all investigations of alleged use of chemical weapons should be conducted strictly in accordance with the provisions of the Convention," said Rajamony.

The March 4 attack on Skripal and Yulia with a nerve agent called Novichok turned into an international row, with US, UK and other western nations expelling diplomats of Russia from their respective countries. Moscow also retaliated by expelling several diplomats of the western countries from Russia.

With OPCW already probing the attack on Skripals, London turned down Moscow's proposal for a joint British-Russian investigation.

"We also urge that all provisions of the convention (CWC) be utilised to address concerns in accordance with the procedures laid down in the convention, so as to reach evidence-based conclusions," Rajamony told the Executive Council of the OPCW on Wednesday.

New Delhi obviously was keen to avert upsetting Moscow, ostensibly in view of the "special and privileged strategic partnership" between India and Russia. It however also sought to avoid going completely against growing clamour by US, UK and other western countries against Russia.

"India, as all other countries, should await the outcome of the investigation," said Rajamony.

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