Russia and China veto humanitarian aid for starving Syria twice in a week, with the click of a mouse

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By John J. Metzler

A devastating decade old war, a deteriorating humanitarian situation, and a deplorable inability of the international community to stop the conflict, underscores Syria’s tragic fate.

The failure of the UN Security Council to ease the suffering, callously blocked by Russia and China, tragically highlights the shared international shame of the Council’s deadlock.

Due to the coronavirus, the Security Council has been meeting online. / CC by SA 3.0

In the course of one week, Russia and China twice used their vetoes to block humanitarian relief corridors to the besieged people wedged in Syria’s northwest and bordering Turkey.  Both Moscow and Beijing used the rare double veto tactic to block, stop and hinder what humanitarian aid does seep across into the small but forsaken region.

Russia continues to support the Assad regime while the unintended consequence of fighting between the government and Islamic jihadi militants remains millions of displaced unfortunates.

Amazingly, the Russian /Chinese diplomatic double whammy was delivered online.  Given that the UN remains closed during the COVID-virus, and thus convenes via the teleconferencing platforms which have effectively replaced in house Security Council meetings thus adding to the video game nature of modern discourse, diplomacy and the delivery of death.  Thus the shame of vetoing a humanitarian draft resolution can be clinically clicked on your computer screen while checking your weather app, fielding a few text messages from afar, and getting Netflix promos rather than seeing and feeling the cold disdain but hapless chagrin of your colleagues sitting near you!

American Ambassador Kelly Craft warned, “It has never been clearer that Russia and China see the UN Security Council as just another tool to advance their narrow national agendas at the expense of millions of innocent Syrian women, children, and men…Today, Russia and China continued their months-long effort to choke off humanitarian assistance to Syria by vetoing a Security Council resolution that would have maintained the last two remaining border crossings in northwest Syria, a lifeline to more than 2.8 million people.”

As the UN’s Humanitarian Chief Mark Lowcock advised the Council, “An estimated 2.8 million people in the north-west, 70 per cent of the region’s population, require humanitarian assistance. Mass-displacement of almost a million people earlier this year and new economic hardships, aggravated by the regional impact of COVID-19, have left civilians in the north-west among the country’s most vulnerable people.”

Lowcock added, “Displaced families make up two thirds of the current population of the north-west…1,781 aid trucks crossed the border from Turkey into north-west Syria in May.

Most of this cross-border aid is food, and it is enough for 1.3 million people every month.”

In a compromise resolution advanced by Belgium and Germany during a videoconference meeting, the Council tried to renew a mechanism that allows the United Nations and its humanitarian partners to deliver aid into Syria through two crossing points from Turkey; Bab al-Salam and Bab al-Hawa.  Russia insisted one humanitarian portal was sufficient as a narrow spigot to aid a mass of marooned humanity.

Germany’s delegate Christoph Heusgen stressed poignantly, “One thing remains clear: millions of people are counting on the Security Council to allow for as much humanitarian access as possible.  This Council has a responsibility to the Syrian people and the humanitarian aid workers who support them.”  Indeed, but Moscow begged to differ.

According to the UN, more than 11 million people in Syria are dependent on humanitarian aid. There are approximately 5.7 million Syrian refugees in neighboring countries, such as Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey, whereas over 6 million Syrians are displaced inside their own country.

The Syrian crisis remains a major funding commitment for the UN humanitarian system; a recent International pledging conference in Brussels saw $5.5 billion allocated for 2020 and an additional $2.2 billion for next year.  Significantly, the European Union was the major donor with $3.6 billion pledged followed by an additional $1.1 from Germany, $700 million from the USA, and $169 million from Japan.  Aid from Arab states, except Qatar, was nil.

Over the past few years American policy at the UN is increasingly at loggerheads with both Moscow and a boldly assertive Beijing.  The fifteen-member Council is returning to the frozen deadlock of the Cold War era and is thus far less flexible to respond to emerging crises affecting international peace and security.  Civilians are caught in the crosshairs of brutal power politics as countries as disparate as Syria, Libya and Myanmar suffer the collateral damage.

While Washington remains a major international humanitarian aid donor, we are treating tragic symptoms and not the root political problems.

John J. Metzler is a United Nations correspondent covering diplomatic and defense issues. He is the author of Divided Dynamism the Diplomacy of Separated Nations: Germany, Korea, China (2014). [See pre-2011 Archives]