US Diplomat Accuses Russia of Taking UN Security Council ‘Hostage,’ Risking Syrians’ Lives

( – In a win for Russia, the U.N. Security Council on Tuesday adopted a resolution extending cross-border humanitarian aid for millions of civil war-impacted Syrians for just six months, rather than a year, as the U.S. and other council members wanted.

The decision means that the mandate for the U.N. operation providing food, medicine and supplies will run out in midwinter – when needs peak – and have to be renewed again, requiring a new resolution.

“In the absence of a new resolution [in January], Syrians could be left without blankets or fuel to heat their homes in the dead of winter,” U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Linda Thomas-Greenfield said after the vote.

“NGOs will lack the time they told me they needed to organize a reliable supply of humanitarian aid,” she said. “Children will freeze. People will starve. Lives hang in the balance.”

Tuesday’s vote came four days after Russia vetoed a resolution that would have extended the deliveries of humanitarian aid by a year, saying it ignored the interests of Bashar Assad’s regime.   


Russia argues that aid coming in from outside to rebel-held areas in northwest Syria violates the country’s sovereignty. Russia is pressing for so-called “cross-line” deliveries – aid that crosses lines within Syria between regime-controlled and non-regime controlled areas, and is coordinated by Damascus.

Friday’s veto was the 17th cast by Russia to kill resolutions that it views as unfavorable towards its ally Assad since the civil war began in 2011. (China has joined Russia in ten of those vetoes.)

Although the U.S. opposed the alternative resolution put up for a vote on Tuesday, it abstained rather than voted against it – signaling its objections, but not wanting to replicate Russia’s move in vetoing it. Britain and France, which also have veto power, joined the U.S. in abstaining.

“Our approach, unlike Russia’s, is driven by humanitarian needs,” Thomas-Greenfield said.

“When I spoke to U.N. experts and NGOs over the weekend, they told us that a temporary extension is, of course, better than nothing. So we did not block this resolution, even though it falls far short of the Security Council’s duty to the Syrian people.”

Russian deputy ambassador Dmitry Polyanskiy said it was time for the U.S., Britain, and France “to get used to respecting the interests of other states,” especially those impacted by council decision-making.

He called for work to be done to enhance “cross-line deliveries” within Syria, and for Western countries’ sanctions against the regime to be lifted.

Deputy U.S. Ambassador Richard Mills accused Russia of taking “the entire council hostage, with the lives of Syrian men, women, and children hanging in the balance.”

He recalled why the cross-border aid mechanism was established in the first place – “because the Assad regime has a well-documented history of corruption, of stealing aid, and denying it to communities in need.”

“With its brutal behavior and continued attacks on civilians, the cross-border mechanism remains essential to ensure aid is able to reach those in need,” Mills said. “Russia continues to defend this brutal regime and treat the Syrian people as disposable.”

More than four million need aid

About 800 trucks carried aid across the Bab al-Hawa crossing from Turkey into Syria each month last year. The U.N. says the number of people in need of the aid in northwest Syria will rise to 4.1 million this year, up from 3.4 million in 2021.

Thomas-Greenfield linked that rise to the global food crisis, worsened by Russia’s invasion in Ukraine.

International Rescue Committee president and CEO David Miliband highlighted the issue of the mandate running out in mid-winter.

“Year after year we respond to the harsh winter months, as displaced families and host communities are forced to survive freezing temperatures, flash floods, and the loss of seasonal incomes,” he said in a statement after the vote.

“The winter of 2023 is likely to be no different, and so renewing this lifeline so that it will expire at the height of next winter risks Syrians’ access to life-saving support, such as shelter and food, just when they will need it most.”

The last time Russia (joined by China) vetoed a Syria-related Security Council resolution was in mid-2020, when they blocked a measure that would have kept open two crossings on the Syria-Turkey border for humanitarian aid. Several days later, the council voted to allow aid delivery through just the Bab al-Hawa crossing. That mandate expired on Sunday, two days before Tuesday’s vote to renew it.

The U.S.-based NGO Physicians for Human Rights called the council’s approval of a single humanitarian border crossing point for just six months “the bare minimum.”

“Russia’s push to replace these border crossings with a cross-line strategy as the primary means of facilitating aid delivery is a dangerous and detrimental proposal that would open the door for the Syrian government’s further weaponization of health care in Syria,” said the group’s advocacy director, Erika Dailey.

House Foreign Affairs Committee ranking member Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Texas) also slammed Russia’s conduct, accusing it of “abusing its role on the council to limit humanitarian aid in Syria and prop up the Assad regime.”


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