UN braces for likely Russian veto of Syria gas attacks probe
Syrian children receive treatment at a small hospital in the town of Maaret al-Noman following a suspected toxic gas attack in Khan Sheikhun, a nearby rebel-held town in Syria’s northwestern Idlib province, on April 4, 2017 (AFP / Mohamed al-Bakour)

The UN Security Council will vote Thursday on whether to extend a UN-led investigation to determine who is behind chemical weapons attacks in Syria, with Russia expected to cast a veto.


Russia and the United States have put forward draft resolutions on renewing for a year the mandate of the Joint Investigative Mechanism (JIM), tasked with identifying perpetrators of Syria's toxic gas attacks.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in Moscow gave his clearest indication yet that Moscow would veto the US-drafted measure extending the panel for one year.

"The American resolution has no chance of adoption," Lavrov said during a press conference.

He slammed Washington's text as "totally unacceptable," arguing that it would extend the mandate "without changing any of the current activities of the mechanism which are in violation of the Chemical Weapons Convention."

A Russian vote would mark the tenth time that Moscow has used its veto power at the council to block action targeting its ally Syria.

UN diplomats said Wednesday they were expecting a Russian veto after negotiations failed to bridge differences. The Russian-drafted resolution was unlikely to garner the nine votes required for adoption, they said.

The council will vote at 3:00pm (2000 GMT), just hours before the mandate of the panel expires at midnight.

Russia has sharply criticized the JIM after its latest report blamed the Syrian air force for a sarin gas attack on the opposition-held village of Khan Sheikhun that left scores dead.

The attack on April 4 triggered global outrage as images of dying children were shown worldwide, prompting the United States to launch missile strikes on a Syrian air base a few days later.

Washington and its allies have blamed President Bashar al-Assad's government for the Khan Sheikhun attack, but Syria has denied using chemical weapons, with strong backing from Russia.

A resolution requires nine votes to be adopted at the council, but five countries -- Russia, Britain, China, France and the United States -- can block adoption with their veto power.

"The United States hopes the Security Council will stand united in the face of chemical weapons use against civilians and extend the work of this critical group," said the US mission in a statement on Wednesday.

"Not doing so would only give consent to such atrocities while tragically failing the Syrian people who have suffered from these despicable acts."

- Victory for those who use chemical weapons -

In its draft, Russia insisted that the panel's findings on Khan Sheikhun be put aside to allow for another "full-scale and high-quality investigation" by the JIM, which would be extended for a year.

During a council vote in late October, Russia vetoed a US-drafted resolution on a one-year extension, arguing that it did not want to decide on the fate of the panel before the Khan Sheikhun report.

The United States, Britain and France have insisted that the JIM should be allowed to continue its work and that dozens of other cases of chemical weapons use in Syria must be investigated.

Britain said ending the investigation would mean that perpetrators of chemical weapons attacks in Syria will go unpunished.

"The only victors would be people who want to use chemical weapons in Syria, which is the Assad regime plus Daesh, and I think everyone in the Security Council would be shooting ourselves in the foot if we allowed that to happen," said British Ambassador Matthew Rycroft.

Daesh is an Arabic-derived acronym that refers to the Islamic State group.

Russian Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia said this week that scrapping the chemical weapons probe in Syria "may send a bad signal, but the way the investigation has been conducted sends an even worse signal."

The joint UN-Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) panel was set up by Russia and the United States in 2015 and unanimously endorsed by the council, which renewed its mandate last year.

Previous reports by the JIM have found that Syrian government forces were responsible for chlorine attacks on three villages in 2014 and 2015, and that the Islamic State group used mustard gas in 2015.