Russia backs moves to determine who is responsible for a wave of chlorine gas attacks in Syria that the West blames on the Damascus regime, Moscow’s ambassador to the United Nations said Wednesday.
But it remains unclear if a UN Security Council resolution, as proposed by the United States, is the best way to provide answers, Vitaly Churkin told reporters.
“We support the need to find those people who are behind it,” Churkin said.
The United States is proposing a draft Security Council resolution to set up an investigation by experts who would assign responsibility for the chlorine attacks.
Asked whether a resolution would be the best way to determine who is responsible, Churkin said “could be, we need to discuss it.”
Russia, Syria’s ally, and China have repeatedly vetoed resolutions targeting the Damascus regime at the Security Council.
Britain, France and the United States have accused President Bashar al-Assad’s forces of carrying out the chlorine attacks, using barrel bombs thrown from helicopters.
Assad has denied that his forces were behind the bombings that targeted the northwestern Idlib province in March and have since continued, with as many as 45 reported attacks in recent months.
Russia maintains there is no hard proof that the regime is using chemical weapons.
The Security Council on Wednesday was meeting to discuss the use of chemical weapons in Syria after Damascus agreed in 2013 to a US-Russia plan to dismantle its chemical network and join an international treaty banning their use.
– Getting proof –
A Security Council diplomat said that while Russia supported efforts to uncover those behind the chlorine attacks, it was insisting on a “softer way” through the UN chemical weapons’ watchdog OPCW.
The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) has carried out fact-finding missions in Syria and established that chlorine gas has been used in attacks, but it has not assigned blame.
“What matters is a credible mechanism that gets authorized by the Security Council, that fills this hole,” said a diplomat, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
This would be a “professional, scientific, objective mechanism,” said the diplomat.
Western diplomats have told their Russian counterparts in meetings that “if you think that a party other than the Damascus regime is responsible, then surely you would want proof of that” through an investigation, he added.
Security Council diplomats in April met with Syrian doctors who gave graphic first-hand accounts of chlorine attacks.
A video of the doctors treating children after a chlorine bomb attack on the village of Sarmin in Idlib province left many council members in tears.
More than 220,000 people have been killed in Syria since the conflict began in March 2011 with anti-government demonstrations that were met with a regime crackdown.