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Thursday, April 27, 2017

Why Russia used veto on UN motion regarding Syria chemical attack

On Wednesday, Russia vetoed a resolution condemning the chemical attack in northern Syria that killed over 80 people. The resolution was sponsored by France, the UK and the US all of whom have claimed that Bashar Assad is responsible for the attack.

Earlier versions of the resolution had explicitly blamed Assad for the attack. This one does not explicitly do so but by its terms suggests that he was. The UN account of the Security Council meeting noted that the Russian representative Vladimir Safronkov said that the Russian delegation voted against the draft because of its "erroneous" contents, noting that his countries concerns and priorities were set aside. Safronkov said that the troika of the UK, France, and the US had already named a perpetrator before a proper investigation had been conducted. He said that by presenting a doomed resolution that they had undermined the unity of the Council. Council members agree that there should be an investigation and also agree to condemn any gas attack but they cannot agree on the words of a resolution.
Safronkov said the parties should have agreed upon a document that ensured the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) could conduct an impartial investigation. While the OPCW can go ahead and investigate without further guidance from the UN the west is clearly trying to steer the direction of the investigation towards an ultimate punishment of Assad. Safronikov noted that some countries expessed an anti-regime slant and were reluctant to allow a truly impartial investigation.
The motion found 10 votes in favor and 2 against, Bolivia and the Russian Federation. China, Ethiopia, and Kazakhstan abstained. Prior to the vote Safronkov said that during recent negotiations between US Secretary of State Tillerson and his Russian Sergey Lavrov, the Russian Federation suggested a joint communication asking the OPCW Director-General to put together an international mission to visit the town where the incident took place Khan Shaykhun and the Shayrat air base from which the Syrian planes are said to have come. He said that Tillerson was considering the proposal and the issue would be discussed on the 13th of April in The Haque. There is as yet no report on the issue. Safronkov said there would be no purpose in putting the draft forward for a vote. Of course there is, the US and others can blame Russia for blocking progress on an investigation while at the same time demanding one. The Russian demand is that there be a resolution that everyone will agree to. The US, UK, and France knew full well that the motion would be vetoed.
The representative from Bolivia Sacha Llorentty Soliz condemned the use of chemical weapons and emphasized the need for an independent investigation into the incident:Bolivia had voted against the draft because the Council should not be used as a sounding board for war-related propaganda and interventionism, he said. Noting that some Council members had been excluded from negotiations on the text, he said the vote’s outcome had been known in advance. What was the point of the exercise? he asked, questioning whether the Council was a pawn in the negotiations between the Russian Federation and the United States. Were the sponsors acting for the benefit of the Syrian people or for their own political and military ends?This is in my opinion the most perceptive response to the situation. The US, France, and the UK are trying to steer the investigation towards blaming Assad and even putting in clauses that would see him punished for non-compliance with the terms whereas the rebels are subject to no such provisions.
While the resolution did not explicitly blame Assad for the attack its provisions are ludicrously weighted towards imposing demands on the Syrian government. The text said that inspectors chosen by the UN and the OPCW must be given prompt and unrestricted access to "any and all sites they choose." They must be provided with flight plans and logs they request , and given the names of military officers "in command of any aircraft" they probe. The Syrian government would be required to arrange meetings requested, including with generals or other officers, within no more than five days of such a meeting being requested. If the Syrian regime is not in compliance with its terms it could be exposed to military action mandated by the Security Council under Chapter VII of the UN Charter. The rebels controlling Khan Shaykhun are asked only to "provide delay-free and safe access' to the site of the reported incident." There is nothing about subjecting them to UN military action even though the rebels who control the area are rebranded Nusra Front rebels I understand. The best that one can hope for is that Tillerson agrees to the Russian proposal in discussions at the Hague today.


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