Russia and China have blocked a proposal at the United Nations Security Council aimed at keeping open two border crossings that channel aid into Syria’s opposition-held northwest from Turkey.
Russia, which backs Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in the conflict, previously made clear its intent to veto the proposal, despite last-minute hopes the Kremlin might abstain.
According to Reuters, Russia and China want to approve only one aid crossing from Turkey for a period of six months.
The move is bound to worsen the already drastic humanitarian crisis in Syria’s northwest, where more than a million people displaced by the war are struggling with rising prices of food and medicine.
The 15-member council voted 13-2 today to extend a cross-border aid mechanism that is set to expire Friday.
Germany and Belgium introduced the draft resolution last month to extend the opening of the Bab al-Salam and Bab al-Hawa crossings with Turkey. The initial proposal also called for reopening the Yaroubiyah crossing with Iraq to be opened for six months, but that provision was scrapped in hope Russia would allow the other crossings to remain open.
Russia and China have repeatedly threatened to veto proposals to keep cross-border aid routes into Syria open. January saw the closing of Yaroubiyah under pressure from the two countries.
Some 40% of the aid destined for Kurdish-controlled areas of Syria’s northeast flowed through Yaroubiyah, and the UN has since said more than two-thirds of medical facilities that previously got aid in the northeast are no longer receiving it.
The result is that Syria’s northeast has been forced to largely rely on aid routed through Damascus, which is demanding that the Kurdish-led autonomous region come under centralized government control. The same is true for the Rukban camp in Syria’s eastern desert, from which tens of thousands of people have been forced to return to regime-controlled areas due to lack of provisions.
“Anything that arrives in Damascus is ending up in the pockets of people close to the regime, or at the least in regime-loyal areas,” said Thomas McClure of the Rojava Information Center based in northeast Syria.
Syria’s rebel-held northwest now appears set to face a similar situation, if not worse. The Syrian regime has consistently leveraged UN aid as a tool of coercion throughout the war.
Syria is also facing a potential coronavirus catastrophe, with the opposition-held northwest particularly vulnerable. Many of Idlib province’s hospitals were targeted in Russian and regime airstrikes in the government’s offensive that began in April of last year.
“The continued closure in the northeast, and any closure in the northwest will have the effect of driving further misery and poverty among ordinary Syrians for the crime of trying to live outside the control of the Assad regime,” McClure told Al-Monitor via WhatsApp.
“All of this conducted unfortunately under the aegis of the United Nations,” he said.
A representative of the UN refugee agency’s office in Damascus did not immediately return a request for comment.