Russia's ambassador to the United Nations has said his country will veto a UN Security Council resolution to refer the crisis in Syria to the International Criminal Court, calling it a "publicity stunt".

Vitaly Churkin said the French initiative, which is to be put to a vote on Thursday, would undermine efforts to find a political solution to the conflict.

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It would be the fourth time Russia has used its veto to block Western resolutions since the start of the conflict, more than three years ago. Moscow is Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's closest ally, and has provided him with diplomatic cover throughout the crisis.

"The fact that the resolution is going to a vote we regard as simply a publicity stunt, which will have a detrimental effect unfortunately on our joint efforts in trying to resolve politically the crisis in Syria," Churkin said.

French Ambassador Gerard Araud later responded, telling reporters, "He can't argue against it saying it will undermine a political process, because there is no political process."

Peace talks stalled

Peace talks on Syria have gone so poorly that the joint UN-Arab league envoy who tried to broker them, Lakhdar Brahimi, has announced he will resign. 

The draft resolution, supported by at least 58 countries, denounces atrocities by government forces, by pro-government militias and by rebels fighting the regime.

Syria is not a party to the Rome Statute that established the International Criminal Court, so the only way it can be referred to Netherlands-based tribunal is by the Security Council. The council has previously referred conflicts in Darfur and Libya to the court.

Inside Syria: Must a million die for the world to take notice?

Syrian UN ambassador Bashar Jaafari sent a letter on Tuesday asking countries not to support the resolution.

A copy of the letter, seen by The Associated Press, calls the proposal "biased" and an effort to "sabotage any chance of peaceful settlement of the Syrian crisis led by the Syrian people themselves".

UN investigators said in March that they had expanded their list of suspected war criminals from both sides in the civil war and that the evidence was solid enough to prepare any court indictment.

UN human rights chief Navi Pillay told the Security Council last month that human rights violations by Syrian government forces "far outweigh" those by armed opposition groups.

Activists estimate that about 160,000 people have been killed in the war. Two million people have fled the country and millions more have been internally dispaced.

Source: Agencies