As buildings were yesterday pulled down in the decimated Ukrainian city of Mariupol, and fresh Russian rocket attacks were seen in Kharkiv, there was dismay over the Kremlin’s vetoing of a nuclear deal.
The Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, which is reviewed by its 191 signatories every five years, aims to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons.
But over the weekend, Russia objected to a draft text citing “grave concern” over military activities around Ukraine’s nuclear plants, in particular the huge sprawling complex at Zaporizhzhia – the biggest in Europe.
Both Ukraine and Russia blame each other for shelling around the nuclear plant, which experts have warned risks creating a catastrophe not seen by the world since the Chernobyl disaster of the 1980s.
There was further bombing in the area yesterday, with Ukraine saying it was Russian shelling and Moscow declining to comment. It had been hoped that the nuclear disarmament review joint declaration would be signed by all nations in New York at the weekend.
But the West reacted with despair when Russia refused to sign, thus blocking its progress. Australian Foreign Minister Penny Wong said she was “deeply disappointed” at the lack of agreement.
“Russia obstructed progress by refusing to compromise on proposed text accepted by all other states,” she said.
The US representative, Ambassador Bonnie Jenkins, a also said the US “deeply regrets this outcome, and even more so on Russia’s actions that led us here today”.
Anti-nuclear campaigners also expressed their despair. A spokesman for the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons said the organisation regretted that “in a year when a nuclear-armed state invaded a non-nuclear armed state, a meeting of nearly all countries in the world failed to take action on nuclear disarmament”.
And the Washington-based Arms Control Association said the conference represented a “missed opportunity to strengthen the treaty and global security”.
Russia itself said it had been opposed to a section of the text expressing “grave concern” over military activities around Ukrainian power plants – including the Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant, which Russia seized early on in the war in Ukraine.
The draft section also remarked on “the loss of control by the competent Ukrainian authorities over such locations as a result of those military activities, and their profound negative impact on safety”.
Russia’s representative, Igor Vishnevetsky, said the draft final text lacked “balance”.
“Our delegation has one key objection on some paragraphs which are blatantly political in nature,” he said – adding that other countries also disagreed with the text.
The Dutch said they were “content with the useful discussions”, but “very disappointed that we have not reached consensus”.
China’s ambassador, meanwhile, said despite the lack of agreement, the process was “an important practice of common security and genuine multilateralism”. The final document had needed approval of all countries at the conference.
The Non-Proliferation Treaty, backed by 190 countries in 1970, commits countries which signed up – including the US, Russia, France the UK and China – to reducing their stockpiles and bars others from acquiring nuclear weapons.
Last week, the Zaporizhzhia plant was temporarily disconnected from the power grid, raising fears of a possible radiation disaster.
The UN’s nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), is expected to organise a trip to the Zaporizhzhia plant in the coming days to inspects facilities there.