Russia used its veto twice in 24 hours to deny a new mandate to the UN team looking into chemical weapon attacks in Syria. Moscow said it would not extend the mandate of the probe without fixing its "fundamental flaws."
Tensions were running high in the UN Security Council on Friday after Russia vetoed a last-ditch motion by Japan to continue the UN-led investigation into chemical weapons use in Syria.
Moscow has repeatedly criticized the findings of the UN-backed investigative body, dubbed Joint Investigative Mechanism (JIM) as biased and inaccurate. Last week, JIM released a report blaming the Syrian regime for the chemical attack which killed around 100 people in the town of Khan Sheikhoun in April. Russia rejected it as "invented" and insisted that the body needed to reform.
Following the Friday vote, Russia's UN ambassador Vassily Nebenzia said that the JIM's leadership "disgraced itself with its fictitious investigation" and "signed its name on baseless accusations against Syria."
"Any extension of the JIM's mandate for us is possible only provided fundamental flaws in its work are rectified," he added.
The Thursday impasse put the future of the body in question, as both the American and the Russian draft resolutions were blocked in the UN Security Council as the body's mandate was set to expire. The dispute prompted Japan to put forward a motion to extend the mandate for another 30 days.
In the document, Japan proposes that UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres and the head of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) should put forward ideas for the structure and working methods of the JIM within 20 days. The ideas would reflect the views of the Security Council members.
Russia still voted against the motion, however, saying that the renewal of mandate cannot be considered "separately from the general context." Nebenzia said it would place "a completely impossible challenge" for the UN chief Guterres as council members had "diametrically opposed" viewpoints on many issues.
It was the 11th time that Moscow, an ally to the Syrian regime, used its veto power to block a resolution on Syria since the war started in 2011.
US Ambassador Nikki Haley told the diplomats that Russia had "no interest in finding ground" with other powers to save the investigative mechanism.
"Russia will not agree to any mechanism that might shine a spotlight on the use of chemical weapons by its ally, the Syrian regime," she said. "It's as simple and shameful as that."
In turn, Nebenzia said that the Thursday draft, which was put together by Russia, submitted by Bolivia, and backed by China, was still "on the table."
Some Council members were "blaming Russia for ending the JIM," the Russian ambassador said.
"Those who claim this apparently have short memories. Have you forgotten that it was you who closed down the JIM yesterday by voting against the resolution which was put forward by Russia, China, and Bolivia?"
Following Friday's vote, Sweden's UN Ambassador Olof Skoog asked for new Security Council consultations aimed at salvaging the JIM. Italy's UN representative Sebastiano Cardi, the council president, also told reporters: "We will continue to work in the coming hours and days constructively to find a common position in light ... of this crucial nonproliferation issue."