There was a bitter war of words on Sunday at a specially-convened meeting of the UN Security Council over Syria – as diplomatic efforts to broker peace give way to recriminations.
The US singled out Russia, accusing it of “barbarism” as warplanes pounded rebel-held areas of Aleppo – and of consistently lying over its support for the Assad regime.
Russia, it was suggested several times during the session, may have committed war crimes – especially over last week’s bombing of an aid convoy near Aleppo.
Moscow’s ambassador blamed the US for failing to rein in rebel groups and said ending the civil war was almost “impossible”.
The meeting, which had been called by the US, Britain and France in the wake of the collapse of the latest ceasefire, was particularly heated.
In particular the West stepped up its accusations, and the tone of its language, against Russia – as any pretence of finding a diplomatic deal with Moscow went by the wayside.
The most direct charges came from the United States. Washington’s ambassador to the UN accused Moscow of bombing civilian targets and humanitarian convoys.
Samantha Power said instead of pursuing peace, Russia – along with President al-Assad’s government – was making war. She added that Moscow was “abusing its historic privilege” of holding a permanent seat on the UN Security Council.
“In Syria, we know that Russia has consistently said one thing and done its opposite,” she told the session. “We know that there can be no peace in Syria if Russia is determined to keep fighting this war.”
It was time to say who was carrying out air strikes and killing civilians, she went on, accusing Moscow of lying. “When Russia is espousing fiction we have to call that out. What Russia is sponsoring and doing is not counter-terrorism, it is barbarism.”
Russia denies attacking the aid convoy last week, blaming rebels or a US drone.
Moscow’s ambassador to the UN said rebel groups were responsible for the collapse of this month’s ceasefire, insisting that Russia would no longer be making concessions to them.
“In Syria hundreds of armed groups are being armed, the territory of the country is being bombed indiscriminately and bringing a peace is almost an impossible task now because of this,” Vitaly Churkin told the council.
“More than 200,000 people in Aleppo have become prisoners of the terrorist groups, Jabhat al-Nusra and others. They’re trying to use women and children as human shields. Air strikes are used only against the militants’ positions and with laser guided bombs,” he said, praising Damascus for using “admirable restraint”, and that Syrian government forces only fired on eastern Aleppo when they were fired upon.
Churkin’s version of events did not tally with that of several other representatives.
The UN special envoy. Staffan de Mistura told the council reports that “bunker-busting bombs” had been used on civilians in Aleppo showed the conflict had reached “new heights of horror”. More than 200 people, including many women and children, had been killed since the offensive began, he said.
Britain’s ambassador accused Damascus of a “sick blood-lust against its people”, and also held Moscow responsible for the plight of civilians.
“They are now facing an unprecedented, unrelenting onslaught of cruelty, and it is increasingly clear that it is an onslaught beyond the capabilities of the Syrian Air Force alone. In short, it is difficult to deny that Russia is partnering with the Syrian regime to carry out war crimes,” Matthew Rycroft told the Security Council.
Earlier in the day British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson said Russia was guilty of prolonging the war in Syria and may have committed a war crime by targeting the aid convoy.
As Syria’s UN ambassador began addressing the council, the US, French and British representatives walked out, according to diplomats.
We need to decide how to stop this. Now. #Syria's
UN</a> ambassador is not interested in that decision. That's why I just walked out of <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/UNSC?src=hash">#UNSC</a>.</p>— Matthew Rycroft (MatthewRycroft1) September 25, 2016
The particularly heated meeting of the Security Council saw repeated accusations against Russia, and for some the change in tone marks a new phase, throwing out any remaining hopes that Moscow and Washington can reach a peace deal for Syria.
with AP, Reuters