UNITED NATIONS – In a scene reminiscent of the Cold War, Russia and China today banded together to cast their third veto blocking any United Nations Security Council action to address the rapidly worsening situation in Syria.
It came as the embattled government of President Bashar al-Assad was seeking to recover from the assassination of both its defense minister and deputy defense minister in a Damascus bombing Wednesday.
Had the resolution been approved, it could have given the U.N. a military option to impose its will on the Syrian government.
But the Russians and Chinese, seeing parallels to events in Iraq and Libya, were determined not to see a repeat in Syria.
In fact, diplomatic observers feel the council inaction could infuse new life into the embattled Syrian government.
U.S. diplomats warn the Russian-Chinese maneuvers will essentially end any immediate role for the U.N. and its envoy, Kofi Annan, in Syria.
U.S. Ambassador Susan Rice said: “We will intensify our work with a diverse range of partners outside the Security Council to bring pressure to bear on the Assad regime and to deliver assistance to those in need. … It is a bad day in Turtle Bay.”
Though the resolution backed by Britain and France was vetoed by Moscow and Beijing, it did garner 11 yes votes and two abstentions.
The diplomatic failure was graphically illustrated just moments before the council vote as both the Russian and Chinese ambassadors pointedly avoided any contact with their Western counterparts.
Russian Ambassador Vitaly Churkin told reporters that the council meeting “never should have taken place.”
Chinese Ambassador Li Baodong told the council his government was fed up with “the tricks” being used by Washington and its allies.
U.K. Ambassador Mark Lyall Grant said he “was appalled” by the vetoes.
He was seconded by French ambassador Gerard Araud, who charged “history will judge Russia and China to be wrong.”
Rice, smarting from the Russian-Chinese slap, could not conceal her contempt.
“The first two vetoes they cast were very destructive,” she said. “This veto is even more dangerous and deplorable. … What this resolution would have done was to provide the political support to the U.N. mission that might have given it a fighting chance to accomplish its mandate.”
Churkin hastened to reply that “there should never have been any doubt on our vote.”
There is a larger geopolitical picture here,” he said. “There are similarities to events in Iraq and Libya.”
Similarities, he insisted, that would not be repeated.
He added that there should be no doubt of Moscow’s resolve.
The U.S., U.K. and France “have fanned the flames of (Syrian) extremists which has led to an escalation of the crisis.”
“The U.S., U.K. and France are trying to fan flames inside the council,” he said.
Moscow, he insisted, will not allow the U.N. to be used by the West as it did when Saddam Hussein and Moammar Gadhafi were forced from power.
Former U.S. Ambassador John Bolton was not surprised by the crisis.
“These vetoes, just like the last ones, were entirely predictable,” he said. “The Obama administration has based its Syria policy on the fantasy that Russia would cooperate and this was the result.”