Caravanserai and AFP
NEW YORK -- A series of actions by Russia at the United Nations (UN) Tuesday (April 10) to block any measure aimed at identifying the culprits of the latest alleged chemical attack in Syria have made clear the Kremlin's complicity in ongoing war crimes committed by the Syrian regime of Bashar al-Assad.
Videos, pictures and the accounts of first responders corroborate claims that a chlorine gas bombardment ravaged the rebel-held enclave of Douma last weekend, killing at least 40 people and hospitalising over 500.
Russia Tuesday vetoed a US-backed Security Council motion that would have re-established the Organisation for Prevention of Chemical Weapons (OPCW)-UN Joint Investigative Mechanism (JIM) that expired November last year to probe chemical strikes in Syria and to identify culprits.
It was the 12th time that Russia has used its veto power at the council to block action targeting its Syrian ally. To pass, a draft resolution must receive 9 votes on the 15-member council, with none of the five permanent members -- Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States -- vetoing it.
Twelve of the 15 council members backed the US measure, including France, Britain, some African countries, Kazakhstan and Kuwait. Bolivia voted against the draft resolution, while China abstained.
Russian Ambassador to the UN Vassily Nebenzia accused the United States of "planting this resolution" as a "pretext" to justify its future action on Syria.
In the face of intense world outrage, Russia put forth its own version of the US measure that would give the Security Council the responsibility to assign blame for the use of chemical weapons in Syria.
US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley dismissed the Russian draft as "all about protecting the Assad regime" because of the provisions that would have required the Security Council to endorse its findings -- in other words, giving Russia a veto over any attempt to apportion blame.
The Russian resolution unsurprisingly flopped Tuesday, receiving just six of nine votes needed.
Russia presented a third draft resolution that contained language supporting a fact-finding mission by the OPCW already headed to Syria.
That measure also failed to garner enough votes for adoption, with opponents saying it lacked a mechanism to identify the perpetrators of chemical attacks.
"Russia has trashed the credibility of the council," Haley said. "Whenever we propose anything meaningful on Syria, Russia vetoes it. It is a travesty."
"When the people of Douma, along with the rest of the international community, looked to this council to act, one country stood in the way. History will record that," Haley said. "History will record that on this day, Russia chose protecting a monster over the lives of the Syrian people."
Russia's hands are "covered in the blood of Syrian children", she said.
Haley made it clear that the failure to secure a Security Council vote would not hold back the United States or its allies.
The US administration along with a number of allies has made it clear that plans are under way to make the Syrian regime, and perhaps its Russian and Iranian backers, pay for the latest alleged toxic gas atrocity in the war-wracked country.
US President Donald Trump and Defence Secretary Jim Mattis abruptly cancelled upcoming travel plans, as the USS Donald Cook -- a guided-missile destroyer -- moved to within striking range of Syria.
French President Emmanuel Macron, who has been co-ordinating closely with Washington, said he would decide on a response "in the coming days".
The OPCW said it would "shortly" deploy a fact-finding team to Douma for an investigation.
UN chief Antonio Guterres Tuesday said the OPCW should be granted unfettered access to investigate.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) Wednesday (April 11) demanded "immediate" access to the victims of the alleged chemical attack.
"We should all be outraged at these horrific reports and images from Douma," said Peter Salama, the UN agency's chief of emergency response.
"WHO demands immediate unhindered access to the area to provide care to those affected, to assess the health impacts, and to deliver a comprehensive public health response," he added.