For the eighth time since the start of the Syrian conflict – when Syrian President Bashar al-Assad first used overwhelming force against peaceful pro-democracy protestors – Russia, Assad’s most powerful ally, vetoed a UN Security Council resolution that would have held Assad and his regime accountable for its criminal acts.
On April 11, the United States, the United Kingdom, and France put forward a resolution condemning the heinous, illegal chemical weapons attack on the town of Khan Sheikhoun April 4, which resulted in an agonizing death for scores of Syrians, including children. In response to that attack, the U.S. launched an airstrike on the airfield from which the chemical attack was launched.
U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said, “There is no doubt the Syrian regime is responsible for the decision to attack and for the assault itself…The United States will not passively stand by while Assad blithely ignores international law and employs chemical weapons.”
In addition to condemning the use of chemical weapons, the proposed Security Council resolution expressed a determination to see that the perpetrators of the attack on Khan Sheikhoun be held accountable and called on the Assad regime to cooperate with UN investigators.
The resolution would have quickly passed; only two members – Russia and Bolivia– voted against; and three, including China, which had joined Russia in vetoing a series of previous Syria-focused resolutions, abstained. President Donald Trump praised China’s vote, which, observers noted, marked a shift and a significant difference with Russia. However, because Russia, as a permanent member of the Council, has veto power, the resolution was blocked.
U.S. Permanent Representative to the UN Ambassador Nikki Haley deplored Russia’s action: “With its veto, Russia said no to accountability, Russia said no to cooperation with the UN’s independent investigation. And Russia said no to a resolution that would have helped promote peace in Syria.”
“Today’s vote could have been a turning point,” Ambassador Haley said. “This vote could have been the moment when Russia saw that its interests do not lie with a murderous dictator, but rather with the many countries in the international community, including those across the Middle East, that want to end this conflict. By its failure, Russia will continue to be isolated.”
Ambassador Haley urged Russia to “join forces with the overwhelming number of countries that are pushing for a political solution. The international community has spoken. Russia now has a lot to prove.”