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Russia and the US: a zero-sum game

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Russia and the US K.O.ed each other during the UN Security Council meeting.

This Thursday, Russia and the US ambassadors exchanged blows during the United Nations Security Council session this Thursday. The rematch is planned for today.

In a span of three hours, two resolutions regarding the use of chemical weapons in Syria were vetoed: first, a draft presented by the US to renew the mandate of JIM, the UN Joint Investigative Mechanism established in 2015. The resolution was supported by 11 of the 15 Security Council members, but vetoed by Russia. Then, Russian resolution regarding JIM failed to secure nine “yes” votes required for adoption.

A resolution needs nine votes to pass, and any of the permanent five members of the UN Council – Russia, Britain, China, France and the United States – can block the adoption with their veto power, even if nine “yes” votes are obtained.

Several chemical attacks reportedly occurred in Syria within the last few years, including two mustard gas attacks in 2015 and September 2016 and a sarin attack in April 2017 in Khan Sheikhoun. The last one claimed almost 100 civilian lives. The Syrian government has repeatedly denied using any kind of chemical weapons.

Russia’s U.N. Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia explained their decisions to veto the US resolution: “It was our expectation that this body [JIM] would carry out its very important task in an independent, impartial and professional way, thus enabling to identify perpetrators and instigators of such crime, on the basis of robust and credible evidence. Unfortunately, the JIM’s two years of work have clearly shown a whole series of fundamental deficiencies in its investigation. In particular, remote methods of work without ever visiting the crime scene, use of dubious evidence received from opposition groups as a foundation for its work, failure to use methods and means provided by the Chemical Weapons Convention.” Moreover, he added that the latest JIM report was a “complete nonsense full of gaps and inconsistencies” that contradicted “laws of physics and ballistics”. He also invited anyone who wished to better understand Russian arguments to consult a comprehensive analysis of the report conducted by Russian experts.

For the US ambassador Nikki Haley, Russia’s unwillingness to pass the resolution proved that “Russia accepts the use of chemical weapons in Syria”. “By using the veto to kill a mechanism in Syria that holds users of chemical weapons accountable, Russia proves they cannot be trusted or credible as we work towards a political solution in Syria,” – she said.

Vassily Nebenzia retaliated that it was now clear that maintaining the “anti-Damascus fever” was the only real priority for the USA. “They betrayed what was tried to be hidden all that time: that in fact the whole thing was envisaged and invented to show that Russia could not and should not be trusted in the Syrian political process. It is not coincidental. This is the very opportune moment to tell that Russia should not play the role here.”

Nikki Haley replied with the accusation that Russia wants “a JIM that they can micromanage, or that any member can micromanage.” She stated that, like in April, the US are prepared to do whatever they must to defend “the international standard against chemical weapons use.” Her last words were: “We will fight for what is right, we will fight for what is fair.”

Meanwhile, the Syrians are in despair: “We don’t care who’s fighting who, we just want the war to end.”

In an attempt to help the US and Russia reach a compromise, Japan too presented a draft resolution, suggesting to extend the JIM mandate for another 30 days. The draft will be examined today.

And in a true Kumbaya spirit, the current Council president and the permanent representative of Italy, Sebastiano Cardi, concluded the day with a statement that they “will find a way to bridge our differences and to come to a common position.”

The JIM mandate expired this Thursday, at midnight (NY local time), and a new round of UN-hosted Syrian peace talks will take place in Geneva, on November 28th. Stay tuned!

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