Russia and the United States have clashed at the United Nations Security Council over allegations the Syrian government has again used chemical weapons in rebel-held areas of the country.
U.S. Ambassador Nikki Haley on February 5 accused Russia of blocking an investigation of possible chemical weapons use by President Bashar al-Assad’s army in attacks in rebel-held Eastern Ghouta over the weekend despite “obvious evidence from dozens of victims.”
“Russia has delayed the adoption of this statement, a simple condemnation of Syrian children being suffocated by chlorine gas,” Haley said. “This council has been outspoken on ending Syria’s use of chemical weapons, and yet, they continue.”
Russia, which has been conducting military operations in support of Assad since September 2015, rejected the allegations as “slander.”
"It's completely clear to us the goal is to basically accuse the Syrian government of chemical weapons use where no perpetrators have been identified," Russian Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia shot back in response.
The exchange mirrored similar accusations and denials between the two sides in November when Russia vetoed a proposal to temporarily keep alive a UN investigation into who is responsible for chemical weapons attacks in Syria after blocking a one-year extension of the inquiry.
Syria has repeatedly denied using chemical weapons. The investigative team also found the extremist group Islamic State was responsible for a mustard gas attack in 2015.
Russia has given Assad crucial diplomatic support throughout the war, using its clout as a veto-wielding permanent Security Council member to shield him and his government from international censure and pressure.
Moscow has also backed Assad in the battlefield during a conflict that has killed hundreds of thousands of people and driven millions from their homes, launching a campaign of air strikes against government opponents in 2015 and stepping up its military involvement on the ground.