Russia dismisses US push on Syria aid as ‘non-starter’

Moscow signals it could veto renewal of mandate for aid convoys into war-torn country

Workers unload aid from one of the 25 trucks in the aid convoy that arrived in Douma, Syria. EPA
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Russia’s UN ambassador on Wednesday dismissed US efforts to reopen shuttered transit routes for aid supplies into Syria as a “non-starter” before an important Security Council vote on the issue.

Vasily Nebenzya said Moscow rejected Washington's plan to keep the last remaining aid checkpoint into Syria open and to reopen two crossings that were closed last year, saying cross-border supply lines were no longer needed.

The UN Security Council has until July 10 to agree on whether to renew its mandate for cross-border aid convoys. Russia and the council's four other permanent members can cast vetoes to torpedo any draft resolution.

“What we hear from our colleagues about reopening the closed cross-border points is really a non-starter,” Mr Nebenzya told reporters in New York.

The council first authorised cross-border aid operations into Syria in 2014 at four points — Bab Al Hawa between Turkey and Syria’s north-west, Bab Al Salam between Turkey and northern Syria, Al Ramtha near the Jordanian border and Al Yaroubia on the north-east frontier with Iraq.

Last year, the council cut that access to only Bab Al Hawa due to opposition from Russia and China.

The US and others have pushed for Bab Al Hawa to stay open and for aid vehicles to be allowed to enter Syria at Bab Al Salam and Al Yaroubia.

Russia, an ally of Syrian President Bashar Al Assad, says all aid should be overseen by the capital, Damascus, passing across front lines into the north-west and other regions, and claimed that western countries were politicising the issue.

The north-western Idlib region, accessible via Bab Al Hawa, is the last remaining rebel stronghold against Mr Al Assad’s government, which has largely regained control of Syria after a decade of civil war that has left the country in ruins.

Mr Nebenzya said he would “continue consulting” with council members on keeping Bab Al Hawa open and preventing humanitarian supplies from helping the Turkey-backed rebels in Idlib.

“We have to ensure stable deliveries from cross-line, from inside Syria, as well as on rectifying the defects of the cross-border [operation], including marking, labelling the humanitarian trucks and the control over the distribution of assistance,” the envoy said.

US President Joe Biden and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin discussed the crossings at their summit in Geneva on June 16, but a US official said they had failed to make any headway.

The UN and aid agencies have given warning of a humanitarian crisis in the north-west and millions of Syrians going without if the mandate for cross-border supplies lapses on July 10 without agreement within the Security Council.

Updated: June 30, 2021, 2:49 PM