Russian resolution to cut US-backed Syrian cross-border aid program fails at UN Security Council
A Russian effort to slash a cross-border aid program to Syria’s northwest failed on Wednesday, a day after both Russia and China killed off a U.S-backed effort to expand the crossing points to the northeast — as experts warned of a brewing humanitarian crisis.
The resolution to cut the border crossings from two to one got only the support of three other countries — China, South Africa and Vietnam — well short of the nine it needed to pass. Countries such as the U.S. and U.K. have argued that the cross-border program needs to be expanded, not cut.
The cross-border aid program allows aid to be funneled into Syria by keeping open crossings on the borders in the north of the war-torn country. The years-long program was partially extended in January when Russia vetoed a resolution that would see four crossings open, and instead forced the Council to pass Resolution 2504, which reduced the border crossings to two and cut the mandate to six months.
But that resolution will expire Friday, triggering frantic negotiations to try and solve the stalemate and to overcome opposition from Russia — which is Syrian despot Bashar al-Assad’s largest backer.
On Tuesday, a U.S.-backed resolution, introduced by Belgium and Germany, had enough votes to pass the Council, but was then vetoed by both Russia and China. That resolution initially would have extended the opening of those two crossings – Bab al-Salam and Bab al-Hawa – in the rebel-held northwest on the border with Turkey by 12 months, and reopen the third Al Yarubiyah crossing in the northeast on the border with Iraq for an initial and renewable six-month period. The resolution ultimately dropped the third crossing, but still failed.
That came days after Undersecretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Mark Lowcock told the Council that the northwest of Syria is suffering from a “major humanitarian crisis,” particularly with the COVID-19 outbreak.
“A failure to extend the cross-border authorization would sever the U.N. operation currently underway,” Lowcock said, warning of families reduced to cooking weeds to survive. “It would end the U.N. food deliveries and the support to nutrition centers.”
“It would cause suffering and death.”
Russia has indicated it will not consider an opening up of closed ports, with Russian Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia telling the Council in May not to “waste your time” on efforts re-opening them.
The Russian resolution expressed “grave concern” at sanctions aimed at the Assad regime by the U.S. and the E.U. and requested Secretary-General Antonio Guterres provide a report on “direct and indirect impact of unilateral coercive measures” on humanitarian deliveries and Syria’s socio-economic situation by Aug. 31.
The Associated Press reported that Germany and Belgium are expected to circulate a new proposal to extend the current crossings for another six months.
U.S. Ambassador Kelly Craft on Wednesday again tore into Russia and China for blocking up the expansion of the aid program.
“Instead of accepting this compromise, Russia presented its own propaganda-filled resolution, which distorted the realities on the ground and sought to further reduce and restrict humanitarian relief into Syria,” she said in a statement. “This action by Russia left the United States and eleven other members of the Council with no choice but to refuse to support this resolution today as cynical and grossly inadequate. “
“This breathtaking callousness and dishonesty is now an established pattern, and all UN Member States need to take note. Russia and China believe that if they repeat these lies enough times, the world will start to believe them,” she said. “We are not fooled, we will not relent, and we will continue to advocate for the people of Syria.”