UN rejects Russia's bid to condemn airstrikes on Syria

Russia has been turned down by the UN Security Council in its efforts to pass a resolution that would condemn "the aggression against Syria by the U.S. and its allies in violation of the UN charter."

Russian TV rolls out politicians, experts to deny a chemical attack occurred in Douma and defend Russia's role

Syrians in Damascus wave Iranian, Russian and Syrian flags during a protest against U.S.-led air strikes. (Omar Sanadiki/Reuters)

Russia has been turned down by the UN Security Council in its efforts to pass a resolution that would condemn "the aggression against Syria by the U.S. and its allies in violation of the UN charter."

Only Russia, China and Bolivia voted in favour of the draft, while nine members of the council must approve it before a full vote goes ahead. Even if the vote had been approved, the U.S., the U.K. or France would have had veto powers.

Russia had convened the Security Council on Saturday to discuss the airstrikes by the U.S., Britain and France on sites in Syria believed to be stockpiling and creating chemical weapons. The strike was a response to suspected use of chemical weapons in a Syrian attack on Douma a week ago.

U.S. ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley and Russian ambassador Vasily Nebenzya react to Syria airstrikes 2:49

Russia's UN Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia told the Security Council gathering that the allies were interested only in ousting Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's government and containing Russia.

"We continue to observe dangerous military preparations for an illegal act of force against a sovereign state in what would constitute a breach of international law," he said. "We call on the leadership of these states to immediately reconsider."

Putin calls strikes 'act of aggression' 

The U.S. has denied it is seeking to overthrow Assad and said the strikes were a "one-time shot" in retaliation  for Syria's use of chemical weapons on its own population in Douma.

The airstrikes are being strongly condemned inside Russia, by politicians and experts appearing on TV and by President Vladimir Putin himself.
Russian Ambassador to the United Nations Vassily Nebenzia speaks during a Security Council meeting on the situation in Syria on Saturday at United Nations headquarters. The council rejected Russia's bid to condemn U.S., U.K. and France airstrikes on targets in Syria. (Mary Altaffer/Associated Press)

Putin issued a statement Saturday calling the strikes "an act of aggression against a sovereign state that is on the frontline in the fight against terrorism."

He called the claims of chemical weapons use a "pretext." Russia has repeatedly denied chemical weapons were used in Syria, both this year and in 2016. 

"The Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons dispatched its experts to Syria in order to investigate all the circumstances," Putin said in a statement. "However, in a sign of cynical disdain, a group of Western countries decided to take military action without waiting for the results of the investigation.

"Through its actions, the U.S. makes the already catastrophic humanitarian situation in Syria even worse and brings suffering to civilians," he said, accusing the U.S. of laying the groundwork for terrorists.

The state-run RIA news agency reported that Russian Foreign Ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharova had said the U.S.-led attack will harm peace negotiations.

"This action gives a strong signal to extremists and militants that they are doing right things," Zakharova is quoted as saying.

Airstrikes in Syria dominate TV news

Russia's Kremlin-friendly state TV all-news channel Russia24 went into specials mode shortly after U.S. airstrikes began at 4 a.m. Moscow time. A permanent banner at the bottom of the screen in bold black and yellow read "URGENT...STRIKES ON SYRIA." 

There has been wall-to-wall coverage all day in Russia. In the early hours, the channel mostly presented the basic facts — when it happened, who was involved and what U.S. President Donald Trump said, showing maps and night shots of missiles in the sky.

Russia24 did live hits with their reporter in Washington, with images of war protesters outside the White House. They also broadcast phone hits with their senior war correspondent in Syria.

Russian President Vladimir Putin reaffirmed, during a meeting in Moscow on Saturday, his country's view that a purported chemical attack in the Syrian town of Douma was a fake. (Mikhail Klimentyev/Associated Press)

The main question tossed around in the first few hours seemed to be "Why now? Why at night? Why when we thought they were backing off from plans to attack?"

Later in the day, experts and politicians appeared to assert there was no chemical attack on Douma and reiterate denials that Russia attempted to poison former spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia, who were poisoned in Salisbury, U.K. Many commentators linked the two incidents, accusing the West of posturing in an attempt to justify the attack.

Among those denying a chemical attack was Alexander Sherin, deputy chair of the Defence Committee of the Russian Federation.

Denials of chemical attack

"Ever since the Russian Federation started to show its independent position, ever since the Russian Federation started to show that there is another point of view in the world, that there are countries ready to stand up for countries that fall under the threat of the U.S., ever since then, the U.S. has been trying to find justification," he said.

Says no evidence of chemical weapon use found around town or local hospital 1:59

"Today is the moment of truth. The whole world is wondering now what? Is the U.S. really the only one that is going to dictate the rest of the world? Or is Russia actually capable? So I think they will only increase their attacks. "

We applauded him when he was elected, so now we get what we get.- Nikolai Rybakov, Yabloko Party, on U.S. President Donald Trump

He urged fellow Russians to stand united behind Putin in showing Russia would stand up for independent countries.

Alexei Zhuravlyov, deputy of the state of Duma, said the U.S. is trying to isolate Russia.

"This is not about Syria, it's about politics. The main thing is they want to isolate Russia. To show they can't protect their allies, that Russia is alone. That it has to be localized."

Nikolai Rybakov of the opposition Yabloko Party called for a more conciliatory approach.

Politics of Trump

"We can't solve this problem militarily. We have to find a common language. We have to talk to our partners in the U.S. we have to find those people who will criticize the politics of Trump. We applauded him when he was elected, so now we get what we get!"

The impact of U.S. President Donald Trump's decision to join France and the United Kingdom in co-ordinated strikes on Syria will no doubt be felt in the coming days. 10:39

Russian historian Sergei Stankevich said any ISIS militants will take advantage of this development to stage chemical attacks, provoke a strike and further destabilize the situation.

"This is a very serious attack from the perspective of bringing a political resolution. But this is also an attack on the status of Russia as an ally of Syria and guarantor of political resolution in the region."

Stankevich went on to make an unorthodox suggestion that was quickly snuffed out with laughter and change of subject by the hosts and other panel members — that Russia pull out of Syria.

"So we have to ask ourselves what goals are we trying to achieve out there?" he said. "Are we just going to celebrate that yet again they did not hit any of our sites, and that thank God, they warned us in time about the strikes?

"My advice is obvious ... we have to set some achievable goals, make sure they are guaranteed and protected and then minimize our role in Syria "

With files from Reuters and CBC's Corinne Seminoff and Chris Brown