The U.N. Security Council voted Friday to allow scaled-back cross-border humanitarian aid operations to continue into Syria, adopting a resolution just hours before the operations were due to expire.
Russia won its push to cut back the number of crossing points from four to two, and to guarantee they continue only for an additional six months, instead of the one year several other council members sought.“
We find ourselves in this situation because the Russian Federation has decided to use deprivation as a weapon against the Syrian people,” U.S. Ambassador Kelly Craft said. “This is a crisis of Russia’s making; it is theirs to own.”
The U.N. and its partners have been delivering aid via several border points since 2014, reaching about 4 million needy Syrians. But the government of Bashar al-Assad no longer wants the deliveries to continue, as they try to stamp out the last rebel strongholds.
“ll these cries about imminent catastrophe, disaster, which the northeast faces if we close one cross-border point, is totally irrelevant because humanitarian assistance to that region is coming from within Syria for a long time, and it will continue to come,” Russian Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia told reporters. “What we are saying is that the situation on the ground has changed dramatically and we have to reflect it.”
Russia succeeded in getting the Yarubiyah crossing from Iraq into Syria closed, and dropping another crossing point from Jordan that has not been used recently. Two crossings from Turkey into northwestern Syria will remain.
In practical terms, Yarubiyah means medical aid for chronic illnesses, vaccines and trauma cases to about 1.4 million Syrians will not be able to get into northeastern Syria.
Several council members were bitter about being forced to accept this compromise.
“We supported the resolution to save millions of lives in Idlib, but we strongly voice our discontent for how this result was achieved,” Estonian Ambassador Sven Jurgenson, a new council member, said. “Instead of cooperation, the preferred means of negotiations by the Russian Federation were blackmailing and presenting other parties with ultimatums.”
Britain’s envoy said that while a serious diplomatic effort was made to keep the crossings open, ultimately the deal is “a woefully inadequate response” to the situation on the ground.“
“The exclusion of any border crossing into northeastern Syria is, in our view, deeply regrettable and it puts the lives of thousands of civilians at risk in Syria,” Ambassador Karen Pierce said.
The council tried last month to broker a compromise effort to extend the mission for another year and keep the two Turkish crossing points, as well as Yarubiyah in Iraq. But it failed after Russia cast its 14th veto since the crisis started in 2011, in order to further the interests of the Assad regime. At the time, China also joined Russia in vetoing.
On Friday, Britain, China, Russia and the United States all abstained from the vote. All were unhappy with the final draft resolution, but none wanted to be seen to be blocking humanitarian aid operations.
Until Friday, about 4 million Syrians were receiving aid via cross-border operations. In the northwest, they reached 2.7 million people and another 1.3 million in the northeast.
“We did everything to keep that alive so that these 2.7 million people will continue to get humanitarian aid,” Germany’s ambassador and co-author of the draft resolution said. But he warned that the decision “comes at a very heavy price.“
“Tomorrow morning, 1.4 million people in the northeast of Syria will wake up not knowing if they will be able to continue to get medical aid that they desperately need,” Ambassador Christophe Heusgen said.