Russia vetoes UN measure renewing aid to northwest Syria

“People will die because of this vote,” US Ambassador to the UN Linda Thomas-Greenfield said of the Security Council’s failure to reauthorize the cross-border mechanism.

Millions of Syrian lives hang in the balance after Russia vetoed a UN Security Council resolution on Friday that would have kept humanitarian aid flowing for another year to Syria’s impoverished northwest.

The 15-member body must now scramble to reach a compromise on aid delivery before the United Nations’ current mandate is set to expire on Sunday.

The vetoed resolution drafted by Ireland and Norway would have authorized a 12-month extension of the cross-border mechanism that allows the UN and its partner agencies to send food, medicine and other basic supplies into northwest Syria through the Bab al-Hawa crossing on the Syrian-Turkish border. The text called for a six-month extension of the mandate, followed by an additional six months “unless the Council decides otherwise.”

A rival Russian-drafted resolution that would have extended cross-border aid for just six months was rejected on Friday by France, the United Kingdom and the United States.

US Ambassador to the UN Linda Thomas-Greenfield called it a “dark, dark day in the Security Council.”

“This is a life and death issue. And tragically, people will die because of this vote and the country who shamelessly deployed the veto,” she said.

Set up in 2014, the United Nations’ cross-border aid mechanism originally designated four border crossings — two in Turkey, one in Jordan and one in Iraq — through which humanitarian supplies are sent without requiring permission of the government in Damascus, which has a history of weaponizing aid to opposition-held parts of the country.

The Syrian government’s patrons on the Security Council, Russia and China, have over the years used their veto powers to force compromise votes that chipped away at the number of delivery routes, leaving only the Bab al-Hawa crossing on the northwestern border.

The uncertainty surrounding the resolution’s renewal each year causes panic in the aid community, forcing aid workers to stockpile supplies and appeal for the bare minimum at a time of unprecedented need in Syria.

More than a decade into the conflict, about 60% of Syria’s population is considered food insecure. The global wheat shortage caused by the Russian invasion of Ukraine has compounded the problem, with the cost of basic food items having increased up to 67% in the past three months.

Russia, which has used its veto to block more than a dozen Syria resolutions since 2011, has long threatened to shut down the humanitarian aid operation altogether, which it argues undermines Syria’s sovereignty. Diplomats who spoke to Al-Monitor feared Moscow could make good on its threats this year as a way of retaliating against sanctions imposed over its war in Ukraine.

“The picture that our Western colleagues tried to present … that Russia is against extending the cross-border mechanism, is totally false,” said Russia’s deputy UN ambassador, Dmitry Polyanskiy.

Polyanskiy told reporters after the vote that Russia would block any resolution that wasn’t its own, including a nine-month extension of the cross-border mechanism.

“If someone proposes our draft, we would not say that this is our intellectual property,” he said. “If someone proposes our draft for a second time, why not?”

Failure to renew the resolution before the Sunday deadline will deal another blow to an already beleaguered population in Syria’s Idlib region and possibly drive a new wave of displaced civilians to neighboring Turkey’s doorstep. Last month, the heads of seven United Nations agencies warned of “dire humanitarian consequences” if the aid pipeline were shut down.

Relief organizations say there is no viable alternative to the cross-border mechanism. The UN funds and coordinates operations among local and international aid groups under a system that couldn’t be replicated on the same scale.

“This resolution is a critical lifeline for millions of Syrians,” said David Miliband, president and CEO of the International Rescue Committee. “It defies reason and principle that Security Council members would vote to not maintain and expand all avenues of aid access for vulnerable Syrians.”

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