The so-called Skripal affair involving the alleged nerve gas attack on a Russian former spy and his daughter in Salisbury, England, has spiraled into a full-blown West versus Russia crisis, resulting in several significant anti-Russian measures by the Western nations including the expulsion of Russian diplomats, asset freeze, and the like, engulfing the United Nations as well, in light of US’s decision to expel some 60 Russian diplomats including 12 at the UN.
The US’s decision is, legally speaking, questionable and represents a violation of international norms and principles governing the US-UN relations. US can invoke its own laws to expel Russian officials involved in UN-unrelated activities, but it cannot do so with respect to the Russian diplomats at the UN, who enjoy “functional immunity” under the 1946 Convention on the Privileges and Immunities of the United Nations (Article IV). The so-called New York Convention, adopted by the UN General Assembly Resolution 179, was reinforced by the 1947 US-UN Headquarters Agreement, which keeps the US hands off the UN ‘district’ as “inviolable.”
Yet, instead of questioning the US’s unlawful move against Russia, the UN Secretary General has tacitly consented to it and thus made a mockery of UN. This is reflected in the pathetic reaction of the spokesperson for the Secretary General who is quoted at the UN News Center stating that “this action may require those members to leave the country,” citing the UN-US Headquarters Agreement, which governs the relations between the Organization and the Host country.
On the contrary, this Agreement protects the Russian diplomats, as well as other foreign delegates to the UN, by stipulating that every country is allowed to select its own representatives to the international organization; an outright dereliction of his duty, UN Secretary General’s failure to rush to the protection of Russian diplomats, who are expelled without the US bothering to provide any explanation whatsoever, is lamentable and represents a blot on his record. Russia should now raise the matter at the UN Security Council and to appeal to the special General Assembly Committee that oversees such matters.
Had there been a UN Security Council condemnation of Russian involvement in the spy poisoning case, perhaps US would have a stronger hand in rationalizing its decision. But the Security Council did not take any position after the British complaint, and both UK and Russia agreed that the poisoning case ought to be investigated by the chemical weapons experts of the chemical weapons prohibition organization.
According to the British media, the investigation is on-going and may take months, and the Salisbury health officials in the London Times have categorically denied that they have treated any patient suffering from nerve gas attack, thus contradicting the British government’s (false) claim that dozens of other people have been treated for the attack.
From a critical legal standpoint, there are significant holes in the official British explanation that suggest a manufactured crisis to frame, target, smear, and weaken Russia in the international community, tantamount to a new cold war offensive by the West, which has now infected the UN by the illegal moves against the Russian diplomats and forcing a regrettable paralysis by the Secretary General. Clearly, we cannot rule out the possibility that the Skripal case has been instigated by the new cold war enemies of Russia, who now seem to be moving in the direction of boycotting the upcoming World Cup in Russia.
The sole purpose of the Skripal affair is to score against the Putin government and to rollback some of Putin’s recent foreign policy successes, such as drawing the NATO Turkey closer to itself and gaining the upper hands in Syria and making geopolitical inroads in the Middle East, while at the same time upgrading its nuclear arsenal and matching the US’s nuclear deterrence. The net result of this new West versus Russia offensive is, sadly, a weakening of international norms and, with it, the UN, reaffirming once again that today’s world order is in increasing disarray.