In Brief

US and Russia spar over vetoed Syria sanctions

Anger as Moscow blocks UN sanctions over regime's use of chemical weapons

The US has accused Russia of "making excuses" for Syria after it vetoed a UN resolution to impose sanctions on President Bashar al-Assad's regime.

Under the plan, which was drafted by the US, the UK and France, sanctions would be imposed against 11 individuals and ten entities in connection with the Syrian government's use of chlorine barrel bombs, classed as outlawed chemical weapons.

Nine of the 15 countries that make up the UN Security Council voted in favour, the minimum needed to pass a resolution, with Bolivia voting against and three other nations abstaining.

However, Russia and China exercised their veto power as part of the five permanent members of the council to block the resolution.

It is the seventh time in five years that Moscow has frustrated the UN's attempts to impose sanctions on the Assad regime, says Al Jazeera, while China has joined them on six occasions.

Representatives from both nations "clashed openly" after the vote, the Wall Street Journal reports.

Nikki Haley, the US ambassador to the United Nations, told the council: "For my friends in Russia, this resolution is very appropriate" – a reference to Russian President Vladimir Putin's earlier remarks that the move was "totally inappropriate".

She continued: "It is a sad day on the Security Council when members start making excuses for other member states killing their own people."

The vetoes were "abominable and indefensible", she added.

Vladimir Safronkov, Russia's deputy ambassador to the UN, accused the US of trying to "provoke" Russia, Reuters reports.

"You decided on provocation while you knew well ahead of time our position," he said. "God will judge you."

Russian bombs kill Turkish troops in Syria

10 February

Three Turkish soliders have been killed by a Russian air strike during operations against Islamic State in Syria.

A further 11 Turkish soldiers are reported to have been injured in the fight for control of the Syrian town of al-Bab, Hurriyet Daily reports.

"During an operation by a Russia Federation warplane against Islamic State targets in the region of the Euphrates Shield operation in Syria, a bomb accidentally hit a building used by Turkish Army units," the Turkish military said.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov confirmed the strike, blaming a "lack of agreement of coordinates during strikes by the Russian air force".

Russian President Vladimir Putin has called his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan and "expressed his condolences", reports Reuters.

Relations between the two nations came under strain when Turkey shot down a Russian jet near the Syrian border in November 2015.

The incident came as Turkish-backed rebels began to advance against the IS stronghold "for the first time in weeks", says The Guardian.

The BBC says rebel fighters "managed to capture the western outskirts of al-Bab, which lies about 30km (20 miles) south of Turkey" and that ten Turkish soliders had been killed during the battle.

WWIII: Threat of nuclear war 'seems real again', warns Gorbachev

27 January

Former Soviet president Mikhail Gorbachev has warned that the growing "militarisation of politics" could open the door to a new arms race and the renewed threat of nuclear war.

Gorbachev's 1980s' policies of "perestroika" and "glasnost" paved the way for the dismantling of the Soviet Union and helped end the Cold War.

However, more than 25 years on, "the nuclear threat once again seems real", he says.

Writing in Time magazine, Gorbachev cited ratcheting tensions between Nato and Russian forces along the borders of eastern Europe and a general increase in aggressive political rhetoric.

"Politicians and military leaders sound increasingly belligerent and defence doctrines more dangerous. Commentators and TV personalities are joining the bellicose chorus," the 85-year-old statesman says. 

"Advocates for arms build-up and the military-industrial complex are rubbing their hands."

He called on Russian President Vladimir Putin and US President Donald Trump to lead the way by sponsoring a UN resolution affirming that nuclear warfare is unacceptable and must never be used.

"Stopping and reversing this ruinous race must be our top priority," he said.

Trump has caused concern in the international community with his bullish stance on nuclear weapons.

During his presidential campaign, he "said he was open to more countries, such as Japan and Saudi Arabia, developing nuclear weapons", the Daily Telegraph reports, while in December, he tweeted that the US "must greatly strengthen and expand its nuclear capability".

Gorbachev's warning comes as the Doomsday Clock, a symbolic clock face representing the likeliness of an imminent global catastrophe, inched closer to the dreaded "midnight".

Thirty seconds have been shaved off the countdown, bringing the time from three minutes to midnight to two and half minutes to midnight – its closest since the 1953 Cold War nadir of two minutes.

The decision reflected "the rise of 'strident nationalism' worldwide" and the threat of a new arms race between the US and Russia as well as Trump's comments on nuclear weapons and climate change, said the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, the team behind the clock.

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