Russia, China block extension of cross-border humanitarian aid for millions of Syrians

Russia, China block extension of cross-border humanitarian aid for millions of Syrians
Russia and China blocked the extension of cross-border aid operations for millions of Syrians on Friday, sparking outrage at the UN security council.
3 min read
21 December, 2019
The resolution failed as thousands flee Idlib due to bombardment by Syria's regime [Getty]

Russia and China used their vetoes on Friday to block a UN Security Council resolution that would have extended for a year cross-border humanitarian aid to four million Syrians.

Humanitarian aid currently flows into Syria through UN-designated checkpoints without the formal permission of the regime in Damascus, but that authority is due to expire on January 10.

Germany, Belgium and Kuwait presented a resolution extending that authority for a year, winning the support of 13 council members but drawing the vetoes of Russia and China.

A competing Russian resolution that would have granted a six-month extension while reducing the number of UN crossing points was rejected, having failed to get the minimum nine votes.

Russia is a close ally and major supporter of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, and has used its veto 14 times on Syrian issues since the start of the civil war there in 2011.

Russia's ambassador to the United Nations, Vassily Nebenzia, said the latest resolution was "obsolete" because the authorities in Damascus have "retaken control of most" of Syria's territory.

But the UN humanitarian relief department says the aid remains crucial as the situation on the ground has deteriorated over the past year and Syria is heading into winter.

'State of shock'

Four million Syrians directly benefit from the cross-border aid shipments while 11 million benefit from international aid after eight years of war.

"I am in a state of shock," Kelly Craft, the US ambassador, said after the Russian and Chinese vetoes.

"Today we took a huge step backwards in credibility where it really matters," she said.

"I am deeply and profoundly disappointed at the outcome of today's meeting."

Anne Gueguen, France's deputy permanent representative, called the Russian veto "irresponsible," insisting there was no alternative to providing aid across Syria's borders.

The latest resolution failed just as tens of thousands of civilians flee the northwestern Idlib region due to heavy bombardments by the Assad regime, backed by Russia.

'Crocodile tears'

The text vetoed Friday called for a one-year extension of the authorisation to ship humanitarian relief supplies into Syria - in effect since 2014 - through three checkpoints, two in Turkey and one in Iraq.

Hoping to overcome Russian opposition, the resolution's sponsors on Wednesday dropped a request for a fourth point of entry on the Jordanian border, which has hardly been used since 2018.

Read more: UN chief: aid across Syria front lines must continue 

Earlier in the week, Russia offered a competing draft resolution calling for a six-month extension, but only via the two Turkish checkpoints. 

Put to a vote on Friday, that proposal was rejected, with the United States, France, Britain, Poland, Peru and the Dominican Republic voting against. Germany, Belgium, Kuwait and Indonesia abstained.

"If you're so concerned about Syria, then why didn't you vote in favor of the Russian draft?" said the Chinese ambassador, Zhang Jun.

But the British envoy, Karen Pierce, said that the vetoes showed an unwillingness to help Syrians.

"There is time to sort it out if everybody is willing to do so," she said. 

"I found the crocodile tears from the Russians and Syrians about what will now happen on the ground merely yet another example of the breathtaking hypocrisy we have seen on this."

It was the second time in four months that Russia has vetoed a resolution dealing with the humanitarian situation in Syria.

In September, Moscow used its veto against a resolution calling for a ceasefire in Idlib. That resolution also was sponsored by Germany, Belgium and Kuwait.

Earlier Friday, the UN special envoy on Syria, Geir Pedersen, presented to the Security Council a grim picture as well on seeking a political solution in Syria.

A long-awaited committee to form a new constitution for Syria met in October in Geneva, but Pedersen acknowledged there was little progress.

Agencies contributed to this report.

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