UNITED NATIONS — The UN Security Council on Tuesday failed to renew the mandate of the fact-finding mission investigating chemical weapons attacks in the ongoing war in Syria because Russia vetoed the measure, saying it was politically motivated and timed to isolate Russia.
The Joint Investigative Mechanism, comprising experts from the UN and the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, operates under a mandate that expires in mid-November.
Eleven Security Council members voted in favor of the resolution to renew the group’s work for another year and two countries, China and Kazakhstan, abstained — while Russia and Bolivia rejected it.
As Russia is a permanent member of the 15-member Security Council, its negative vote blocks the measure from being adopted, prompting an immediate backlash from the United States.
“Russia has once again demonstrated it will do whatever it takes to ensure the barbaric Assad regime never faces consequences for its continued use of chemicals as weapons,” said Nikki Haley, the U.S. ambassador to the UN, noting it was the ninth time that Russia has cast a vote against a measure supported by the United States concerning Syria. “Russia has made it clear that it does not care about stopping the use of chemical weapons in the world.”
But Vassily Nebenzia, Russia’s ambassador to the UN, explained that he wanted to postpone the vote until after the JIM had released its most recent report, which is due Friday and is expected to contain information about who conducted the April 4 chemical weapons attack on Khan Sheikhoun, a town held by rebels against Syrian President Bashar Assad.
That attack killed dozens of people and was the impetus behind President Donald Trump’s decision to launch dozens of cruise missiles onto a Syrian air base in response within days, saying the attack was unconscionable and had “crossed a lot of lines.”
But the other Security Council members voted against Russia’s attempt to postpone the vote. The expert panel was established in August 2015 by a unanimous vote by the Security Council and is due to expire on Nov. 17.
“What is taking place today is not very pleasant — it stinks in fact,” Nebenzia said before the vote, but after unsuccessfully trying to get the vote postponed. “Why should we extend the mandate of the JIM two days before the report? . . . Why put the cart before the horse?”
Chemical weapons attacks have come to represent a new low in an unusually brutal civil war in Syria, which started in March 2011, has drawn in tens of thousands of foreign fighters — including terrorist groups such as the Islamic State and al-Qaida — bent on overthrowing Assad, and has claimed hundreds of thousands of lives.
Britain’s ambassador, Matthew Rycroft, said Russia had advocated the formation of the JIM but has been quite critical of it throughout its existence.
“It seems that, not content with spuriously questioning the JIM’s methods and conclusions, Russia has now sought to silence them,” he said. “Instead of respecting the professional and impartial work of the JIM, whose tireless efforts I pay tribute to today, Russia alone has chosen to abuse its veto to support a regime that has no regard for international treaties, no regard for the most basic rules of war, no regard for its own people.”