Foreign minister: Russia hampering provision of humanitarian aid for Syria

Minister of Foreign Affairs Urmas Reinsalu (Isamaa) at the UN Security Council in New York. January 9, 2020.
Minister of Foreign Affairs Urmas Reinsalu (Isamaa) at the UN Security Council in New York. January 9, 2020. Source: Ministry of Foreign Affairs

The way an agreement was reached at the UN Security Council (USNC) on Friday regarding the reauthorization of a cross-border aid mechanism for Syria left a lot to be desired as Russia ignored the international principles of providing humanitarian aid, Minister of Foreign Affairs Urmas Reinsalu (Isamaa) said.

"Russia did not negotiate the text of the resolution in good faith and was guided by the interests of Syria's criminal regime, ignoring the suffering of the people of Syria, the assessment of the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) and the principles of humanitarian aid," Reinsalu said according to ministry spokespeople.

It is regrettable that Russia sought to close down several cross-border humanitarian aid delivery points, contrary to the needs expressed by the UN and the humanitarian aid community, he added.

"Giving humanitarian aid must not be a political toy; it must be impartial and independent," the minister continued. "We are talking about people who are suffering the consequences of years of hostilities and have lost everything. Many of them no longer remember what peace means. It is our moral duty that their lives should not be treated as playthings. The war in Syria, which has lasted for nine years, has above all resuled in civilian suffering — over half a million people, many of them women and children, have lost their lives in the war, and millions have been forced to leave their homes and seek refuge in neighboring countries or relocate within Syria. Since the beginning of the crisis, Estonia has helped mitigate these consequences with over €9 million."

Ahead of its expiration at midnight, the UNSC voted Friday to reauthorize a cross-border aid mechanism for Syria. Under pressure from Russia, however, who had already vetoed one draft resolution extending the mechanism last month, the council scaled back the program, which has provided aid to millions of people in Syria since 2014.

After a series of concessions by Western countries, the UNSC adopted a compromise resolution under which assistance will now be extended for a period of six months, and deliveries made from only two existing border crossings on the Syria-Turkey border. Previously, this aid was extended on a yearly basis, with deliveries made from four points along the border.

Difficult decision

Reinsalu said that the decision would save lives and that reaching an agreement was crucial to ensure that humanitarian aid to the millions of people in need continues.

"Estonia voted in favor of this text with a heavy heart, and our ambassador made a statement at the Security Council explaining our motives," the minister said. "This compromise was the better for the people of Syria of two bad options. We would have preferred just the extension of the mandate for six months without the other limitations; however, in a situation where it was either two border points or none, a difficult decision had to be made. With today's decision, we managed to ensure that humanitarian aid is delivered to some 2.7 million people in Syria. Along with the establishment of the ceasefire, the cross-border humanitarian aid mechanism is one of the most crucial means of preventing a humanitarian catastrophe in Syria's Idlib Governorate."

Two options were on the table at the Security Council vote on Friday, one of which was sponsored by Germany, Belgium and Kuwait and the other by Russia.

The compromise resolution was passed with 11 votes in favor and none against. Four permanent council members, Russia, China, the U.S. and the U.K., abstained from the vote.

This marked Estonia's first vote as a new non-permanent member of the UNSC.


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Editor: Aili Vahtla

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