WASHINGTON — Tuesday, world powers agreed to continue a United Nations aid mission to northwest Syria for an additional six months, bending to a deadline demanded by Russia that will, for the time being, prevent the cessation of life-saving deliveries to approximately four million people enduring an 11-year civil war.
A few days earlier, Russia vetoed a U.N. Security Council proposal to maintain the humanitarian aid corridor from Bab al-Hawa on the Turkish border into Idlib Province for another year. In response, Western diplomats rejected a Russian proposal to instead allow the mission to remain for six months, deeming it too short and unacceptable given that food, medicine, and other supplies would be cut off in the midst of winter, when assistance is most needed.
With few alternatives to assist war-weary Syrians — more than one million of whom have lived in tents since the conflict began in 2011 — the council adopted the six-month mission while officials consider how to help after it concludes.
Geraldine Byrne Nason, Ireland’s ambassador to the United Nations, stated, “What is most important today is that the council, with this resolution, keeps the cross-border mechanism open and operational so that humanitarian aid continues to reach those in need.”
Ireland and Norway drafted a compromise proposal that adheres to Russia’s six-month deadline but also allows for a new vote in January to extend the aid mission for an additional six months.
Understand the Russia-Ukraine War Better
Since Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine in February, the United States and other nations have sought to contain Russian power throughout the world. Tuesday’s vote illustrated the limits of Western resolve to do so. None of the twelve council members opposed the new measure, while the United States, Britain, and France abstained from voting.
Dmitry Polyanskiy, Russia’s deputy U.N. ambassador, stated, “The world is not limited to Western countries, and it’s time for you to get used to respecting the interests of other states, especially those directly impacted by Security Council decisions.”
Russia is a major benefactor to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad during the war, and it used its veto power at the United Nations Security Council to help close three humanitarian corridors into Syria in 2020. Moscow has long argued that the U.N. mission violates Syria’s sovereignty and that Mr. al-Assad should determine how and where international aid is delivered.
Tuesday, Dai Bing, China’s deputy ambassador, echoed Moscow’s demand that “humanitarian aid to Syria should respect Syria’s sovereignty and the ownership of the Syrian government.”
Since 2014, more than 56,000 truckloads of life-saving supplies have been delivered to Idlib Province in northwestern Syria via the Bab al-Hawa route, according to U.N. officials. Aid organizations estimate that 70 percent of the Syrian population lacks reliable food supplies.
12 July 2022, 1:45 PM ET
Russian diplomats have also warned that aid delivered to Idlib, the last major rebel enclave in Syria and a safe haven for Al Qaeda-affiliated extremists, could be taken by terrorist organizations.
After intense negotiations with the United States, Russia agreed last year to keep Bab al-Hawa open, with the understanding that the U.N. mission’s mandate would expire this past Sunday. In contrast, Russia has signaled in recent months that it will not continue the annual process of one-year extensions.
Mr. Polyanskiy stated, “We will continue to monitor progress and implementation of the resolution we adopted today in order to determine the ultimate outcome.”
Richard M. Mills, the deputy U.N. envoy, stated that Moscow’s support for Mr. al-Assad was all the more desperate for Syrians in light of the food shortages caused by Russia and Ukraine’s limited wheat and oil exports.
Mr. Mills stated that Russia is aware that some of the recent dire needs in Syria are a direct result of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the resulting shocks to food systems in Syria and around the world. The simple fact is that Russia does not care.