Russia Vetoes United Nations Probe of the Syria Gas Attack

  • U.K. joined U.S. in blaming President Assad for the attack
  • Veto came after Russia said inquiry tilted to blame Assad

Lavrov Urges Investigation Into Syria Chemical Attack

Russia vetoed a United Nations Security Council resolution demanding that Bashar al-Assad’s government cooperate with an investigation into the deadly toxic gas attack in northern Syria that the U.S. and allies blame on the regime.

Ten nations on the 15-member Security Council voted Wednesday in favor of the resolution condemning the attack. Bolivia joined Russia in voting against the resolution. China, Kazakhstan and Ethiopia abstained.

France, the U.K. and the U.S. introduced the resolution in response to the suspected sarin attack on the rebel-held town of Khan Sheikhoun on April 4, which killed more than 80 people, including women and children. U.S. President Donald Trump ordered missile strikes on a Syrian airbase in response, and administration officials have said evidence clearly shows that Assad’s forces were behind the attack. But Russia contends the chemicals belonged to terrorists.

A man collects samples from the site of a suspected toxic gas attack in Syria.

Photographer: Omar Haj Kadour/AFP via Getty Images

The UN vote came shortly after U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson met in Moscow with Russian President Vladimir Putin and Foreign Secretary Sergei Lavrov on Syria and other issues dividing their countries. Russia wants an international investigation of the chemical attack, Lavrov told reporters in Moscow, but the resolution offered by the U.S. and its allies was aimed “more at legitimizing the arguments against Damascus.”

Read how Tillerson and Lavrov failed to bridge U.S.-Russia divide

The abstention by China, which usually sides with Russia in the Security Council, was praised by Trump at a White House news conference. “I think it is wonderful they abstained,” he said.

Russia objected to a paragraph that would have required Syria to provide investigators with flight plans and information about air operations on the day the attack was launched, as well as the names of helicopter squadron commander and immediate access to airbases where it may have been launched.

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While Russia says sarin was released when Syrian government forces accidentally struck a building where terrorists were hiding a cache of deadly chemicals, the U.S. says it has images proving the bomb left a crater in a road rather than hitting a building.

It was the eighth time Russia had used its veto power to block a resolution against Assad’s regime since 2011. Most recently, Russia blocked a council resolution in February condemning Syria for chemical attacks using chlorine gas.

Analysis by the U.K.’s chemical weapons scientists of samples obtained from the site “have have tested positive for the nerve agent sarin, or a sarin-like substance,” Matthew Rycroft, the U.K.’s ambassador to the UN, told the Council. “The U.K. shares the U.S. assessment that it is highly likely that the regime was responsible for a sarin attack."

The U.S. launched 59 Tomahawk cruise missiles at Syria’s Shayrat airbase on April 6.

Putin’s Position

Putin denounced the U.S. strike and called the chemical attack a provocation aimed at blaming Assad. The Syrian government met its obligations to destroy chemical weapons “as far as we know” under a 2013 agreement brokered by Russia and the U.S., Putin said in an interview with the Mir TV channel. 

Aerial photo of al-Shayrat airfield where U.S. airstrikes hit.

Source: U.S. Department of Defense

“If any doubts have appeared, then it’s possible to carry out checks” by international investigators, said Putin, who compared the U.S. accusations to the faulty intelligence used to justify the 2003 invasion of Iraq.

The draft resolution that Russia vetoed expressed “determination that those responsible must be held accountable,” and demanded that Syrian government gave "immediate and unfettered access" to all sites and individuals.

It also asked the UN secretary general, Antonio Guterres, to provide monthly reports on whether the Syrian government was cooperating.

— With assistance by Justin Sink

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