UNITED NATIONS — Russia vetoed a Western-backed U.N. resolution Wednesday that would have condemned the reported use of chemical weapons in a town in northern Syria and demanded a speedy investigation into the attack that killed nearly 90 people.
The vote on the Security Council resolution drafted by Britain, France and the United States was 10 in favor, Russia and Bolivia against, and China, Kazakhstan and Ethiopia abstaining.
Russia’s U.N. Ambassador Vladimir Safronkov told the council before the vote that during talks in Moscow Russia asked for an independent international investigation to examine the April 4 attack on Khan Sheikhoun. He said U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is considering the request.
Russia has criticized previous investigations carried out by the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons and the United Nations which blamed the Syrian government for at least three chemical weapons attacks. Safronkov has repeatedly called for an independent investigation with experts drawn from a much broader group of countries.
“We are convinced that we need to have a full and immediate investigation, and the possibilities for that have not been exhausted,” Safronkov said after the vote, accusing the resolution’s sponsors of jumping to conclusions about responsibility before a full-fledged investigation.
The United States, Britain and France have pointed a finger at the Syrian government saying their experts have found that nerve agents were used in the April 4 attack.
Looking at the resolution’s supporters sitting around the horseshoe-shaped table in the Security Council, Safronkov said: “You are afraid of an impartial investigation.”
Britain’s U.N. Ambassador Matthew Rycroft said it was Russia’s eighth veto in support of President Bashar Assad’s regime and asked: “How could anyone look at the faces of lifeless children” and yet veto this resolution?
France’s U.N. Ambassador Francois Delattre said “with this attack, the Syrian regime has plumbed new depths of horror.”
Russia’s Safronkov called the U.S. strikes on a Syrian air base in retaliation for the Khan Sheikhoun a provocation, but Delattre said they were “a legitimate response to a mass crime which could not go unpunished.”
China typically sides with Russia in the Security Council, including in opposing U.S.-backed measures to punish Syria for its use of chemical weapons. So China’s decision to abstain rather than join Russia in vetoing the resolution at this time was a significant shift for Beijing.
It came days after Chinese leader Xi Jinping held his first meeting with President Donald Trump at a summit in Florida last week.
In an interview with Fox News aired Wednesday, Trump said he broke the news of the U.S. missile strike on Syria during a dinner with Xi and that the Chinese leader “was OK with it” because it was in response to the use of “gases” and victims had included young children and babies.