Efforts on behalf of the United States to extend the U.N. Security Council investigation into the use of chemical weapons by the Syrian government came to an abrupt halt on Thursday, November 16th, when Russia vetoed the resolution that the US had put forth in order to extend the Joint Investigative Mechanism (JIM) for another year, according to the Washington Post. Without the resolution, the JIM effectively expired on midnight of the same day. The decision to veto this resolution is one of ten separate actions that Russia has taken to shield its ally, the Syrian government led by President Bashar al-Assad, from the consequences of its use of chemical weapons on civilians. The purpose of the JIM was to investigate whether al-Assad’s government was behind the attack on a Syrian village in April, which has become more difficult, although not impossible, now that the body has disbanded.
U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley has acknowledged that the investigation may be continued by other fact-finding entities such as the International Commission of Inquiry on Syria, but is nevertheless angered by Russian attempts to impede efforts to get to the bottom of the crisis. She commented that the Russia veto was a “deep blow” to the investigation and its efforts to hold those responsible accountable. She warned that the United States government is on standby to intervene if there are any further attacks, the same way they did back in April when they launched an array of Tomahawks at the military airbase that the planes carrying the weapons had departed from. “As we did in April, we will do it again if we must,” Haley stated.
Russia is defending its actions by claiming that it is in favor of extending the investigation but insists there must be certain changes first. The Russian government reportedly took offense at a report published by the JLM in October that blamed the Syrian military for the attack in April on the village of Khan Sheikhoun that resulted in the deaths of over 90 civilians. Russia referred to the findings as “amateurish”, since the investigators had never visited the site in question and had instead relied on evidence from photos, interviews, and analyzed soil samples. The Russian ambassador to the UN, Vassily Nebenzia, concluded that the investigators were biased against the Syrian government and drafted his own resolution for the purpose of remedying these flaws. Due to a lack of votes, the resolution failed to pass.
The back and forth between the respective UN ambassadors from Russia and the United States is a continuation of the increasing divide that the Syria issue has created between these two countries. President Trump, despite his reportedly friendly relationship with Russian President Vladimir Putin, took to Twitter hours before the vote to urge the renewal of JLM, adding that it was necessary “to ensure that Assad Regime does not commit mass murder with chemical weapons ever again.” When the resolution failed to pass, scathing criticism poured in from ambassadors to the United States and other allied countries. Nikki Haley offered perhaps the most poignant censure, stating that it was a shame “that Russia has revealed itself to have allegiances to the Syrian regime, not to the truth or the protection of innocent victims.”