Russia has vetoed a draft resolution at the UN Security Council that would have condemned last week’s alleged chemical attack in Syria and demanded that Damascus cooperate with investigators.
The resolution was presented by the US, UK and France, who reacted angrily to Russia’s decision.
It was the eighth time Russia has protected its ally at the council.
The suspected chemical attack on rebel-held Khan Sheikhun on 4 April killed more than 80 people.
Western allies blamed the Syrian government of Bashar al-Assad and US President Donald Trump ordered missile strikes against a Syrian air force base in response.
The proposed resolution would have backed an investigation on the ground by the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons.
The Syrian government would have been told to provide military information, including flight logs, from the day of the alleged attack, and provide access to air bases.
It denies it is responsible.
China – one of the five permanent Security Council members which hold veto power – abstained from the vote, as did Ethiopia and Kazakhstan. Ten other countries voted for the resolution, and Bolivia joined Russia in voting against it.
US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley condemned Russia’s action: “You are isolating yourselves from the international community every time one of Assad’s planes drop another barrel bomb on civilians and every time Assad tries to starve another community to death,” she said.
In Washington, at a news conference with the Nato secretary-general, President Trump was asked by the BBC’s Jon Sopel if he thought it was possible that Syrian forces could have launched the alleged attack without Russia knowing about it.
“I think it’s certainly possible. I think it’s probably unlikely,” he said. “I would like to think that they didn’t know, but certainly they could have. They were there.”
He also said it was “wonderful” that China abstained at the UN, but, mentioning that he spoke with Chinese President Xi Jinping the previous night, said he was “not surprised”.
China has vetoed six resolutions on Syria since the conflict began in 2011.