Russia says there are “serious problems” with an international investigation into an April chemical incident in Syria.
Mikhail Ulyanov, the director of the Russian Foreign Ministry’s non-proliferation and arms control department, made the remark at a briefing at the United Nations (UN) headquarters in New York on Friday.
The investigation, being carried out by the UN and The Hague-based Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), was unanimously created by the 15-member UN Security Council (UNSC) in 2015. Its mandate was renewed in 2016 for another year and is due to expire in mid-November.
Ulyanov said Russia, a permanent member of the UNSC, had to wait until the team released its next report to decide if it would support the extension of its mission.
“In order to judge if it deserves an extension of the mandate, we need to see the report to be issued on October 26 and assess it,” he said.
“I ask myself what is the reason for the extension of the mandate of this mechanism if it is not capable and is not willing to fulfill its mandate,” he added, noting, “We will wait for the report and then we will define our position.”
The investigators have found Syrian forces responsible for three “chlorine gas attacks” in 2014 and 2015. This is while Damascus turned over its entire chemical stockpile under a deal negotiated by Russia and the United States back in 2013. The OPCW oversaw the operations to remove the chemical arsenal from Syria and destroy it.
US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley said last week that renewing the investigation’s mandate had to be the Security Council’s top priority.
The chemical incident occurred in Syria’s northwestern province of Idlib in early April, killing dozens of people.
The United States and its allies claimed the Syrian government had employed a chemical weapon, while Damascus and Russia said a chemical weapons depot held and run by anti-Damascus militants had been hit in a conventional Syrian government airstrike, causing the leak of the chemicals and the deaths.
Three days later, using the incident as a pretext, the US military fired 59 Tomahawk cruise missiles at the Shayrat airfield in Syria’s central province of Homs, from where it said the purported attack had been launched. The US attack reportedly killed several people.