The latest attempt to punish Syrian regime leaders failed after the two permanent members voted against a resolution to impose sanctions for Damascus' use of chemical weapons, the first vetoes by Russia and China before US Ambassador Nikki Haley.
"Russia and China made an outrageous and indefensible choice today," Haley said, speaking in the Security Council chamber after the vote. "It is a sad day on the Security Council when members start making excuses for other member states killing their own people."
She continued, "The world is definitely a more dangerous place. Today, the international community can look no further than the Security Council for contributing to that."
The veto was the seventh time Russia has blocked a Security Council resolution aimed at the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in the past five years, protecting its Syrian ally from any diplomatic action. An international investigation found chemical weapons were used by government forces.
Before the veto, French UN Ambassador Francois Delattre said, "It's a moment of truth."
He demanded the council act, asking, "Who couldn't condemn today those attacking innocent women and children ... with chemical weapons?"
The vote was 9 in favor, 3 against as Bolivia joined Russia and China, and 3 abstentions, from Egypt, Kazakhstan and Ethiopia.
The resolution would have condemned the use of chemical weapons in Syria, a violation of international law, and placed UN sanctions on 21 Syrian scientists, military commanders and entities alleged to be involved in their use.
It also outlined an embargo on the sale of certain chemical substances as well as materials that could be used to transport the weapons, including helicopters.
Russia's representative defended its veto -- the first since the unexpected death last week of longtime Moscow ambassador Vitaly Churkin -- calling it "an attempt to retard and undermine the current political and diplomatic efforts" in Syria "by the Western troika of permanent Security Council members."
Earlier in the day, Russia's state-run news agency, Tass, quoted President Vladmir Putin as saying the new sanctions were "totally inappropriate" as peace talks were underway.
The resolution referenced reports from a UN commission, created at the behest of Security Council diplomats, including Russia, that concluded the Syrian government had dropped devices with toxic chemicals from helicopters on three occasions in 2014 and 2015.
Russian Deputy Ambassador Vladimir Safronkov questioned the findings of the report, based on, he said, "suspicious" and "sympathetic" sources.
Countries calling for the resolution's approval used graphic descriptions of victims of the chemical weapons attacks in blaming Russia for supporting the Assad regime. Those statements seemed to rankle Russia and China even more.
"Having to do with the outrageous statements made against Russia, China and other states, God shall judge you and they will remain on your conscience, these statements," Safronkov said.
Added Chinese UN Ambassador Liu Jieyi: "Certain countries are really at an end in terms of rhetoric."
"[The draft resolution] was forced through to a vote while council members still had serious differences. This is no way helpful to finding a solution to issue of chemical weapons and peace talks in Geneva," Jieyi said.
Speaking to reporters after the vote, UK Ambassador Matthew Rycroft committed to exploring alternative paths towards action on Syria in the wake of a repeated failure.
"It is very difficult to see how the Security Council can ever play our rightful role in setting up mechanisms that will allow accountability in Syria given that Russia now for the seventh time has backed a brutal dictator rather than backing justice and accountability and the Syrian people," Rycroft said.