It’s the third veto of an extension for the chemical weapons investigators in the past month. After Russia vetoed a compromise 30-day extension of the mission proposed by Japan, US Ambassador Nikki Haley said that Russia “saw fit to waste our time.”
UK Ambassador Matthew Rycroft said he was “frankly astounded” that Russia would block a resolution to restructure how the mission operates to meet some of Moscow’s concerns. Swedish Ambassador Olof Skoog called for immediate additional private consultations.
The Security Council was holding those consultations Friday night, but no further vote was expected. The mandate for the Joint Investigative Mechanism (JIM) to inspect for chemical weapons runs out at midnight Friday.
Italian UN Ambassador Sebastiano Cardi, president of the Security Council, said the group “will continue to work in the coming hours and days to find a common position in light, of course, of this crucial non-proliferation issue that we have been debating for the last days.”
In April, more than 80 people were killed in a sarin attack on the rebel-held town of Khan Sheikhun — an attack that prompted the United States to launch 59 Tomahawk cruise missiles at a Syrian airbase. A joint report from the United Nations and international chemical weapons inspectors last month determined the Syrian regime of Bashar al-Assad was responsible for the attack.
Syria has repeatedly denied it had anything to do with the attack and denies it has any chemical weapons. Damascus has said an airstrike hit a chemical weapons depot in the rebel-held area. Russia vetoed the resolution along with Bolivia. China was the sole country to abstain.
11th veto by Russia regarding Syria
Russia has raged in recent weeks against the competence and accuracy of JIM, which assigns responsibility for several chemical weapons attacks inside Syria. “Baseless accusations,” said Russian UN Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia after his veto. But Haley and other UN colleagues denounced Moscow for once again doing anything to prop up ally Assad in Syria.
It’s the 11th time Russia has vetoed a Security Council resolution since the outbreak of the Syria conflict.
The latest Russian veto came at the same time the White House was condemning Thursday’s veto. “Russia has sent a clear message that it does not value the lives of the victims of chemical weapons attacks or respect reasonable standards of international conduct regarding the use of such weapons,” according to a statement from press secretary Sarah Sanders released Friday night.
Nebenzia said Russia’s issue was not with the work of the investigators, but with their mandate. Russia vetoed an October resolution to extend the mandate, saying the group is prejudiced against Russia, and on Thursday the ambassador again cited “flaws” with the investigators’ work.
“There was nothing balanced in the US draft resolution. There was nothing balanced there,” Nebenzia told the council. Russia put forward its own resolution
on extending the mandate, but it was rejected after receiving only three votes in favor.
Haley tweeted after the Thursday vote that “by using the veto to kill a mechanism in Syria that holds users of chemical weapons accountable, Russia proves they cannot be trusted or credible as we work towards a political solution in Syria.“
Before Thursday’s meeting, Haley told reporters US officials had tried to call the Russian mission to discuss renewing the mandate, but the mission’s phones weren’t working. She said she tried to call Nebenzia, but “for some reason he’s not available.” On Friday, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said “no such efforts were rejected.”
“Seems we are witnessing a new phenomenon in international relations, as now, apart from fake news, there is also fake diplomacy,” Lavrov said from Moscow. The foreign minister said Russia clarified its stance on the mandate extension, but “the Americans tried to use some cosmetic phrases, pretending that they had taken our concerns into consideration.”
US President Donald Trump had urged all Security Council members to renew the mandate to ensure that Assad’s regime “does not commit mass murder with chemical weapons ever again.” As part of their work, the UK’s Rycroft said before Thursday’s vote, the JIM investigators had looked into “the frankly ridiculous conspiracy theories that some were coming up with to explain away the use of chemical weapons in Syria by the Assad regime.”