New York (AP) – The compromise in the dispute over humanitarian aid to millions of Syrians in need is fueling hopes for an improvement in relations between the United States and Russia.
Representatives from both countries touted cooperation at the UN Security Council in New York on Friday as a possible new dynamic that began with the meeting of Presidents Joe Biden and Vladimir Putin in Geneva in June.
Russia’s UN Ambassador Vasily Nebensha said the solution in the most powerful UN body could become a “turning point”: “Today, for the first time, we are experiencing a historic moment when Russia and the US not only managed to reach an agreement, but also to present a common text supported by all our fellow councilors ».
There is still room for interpretation
US Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield agreed – a little more cautiously -: “I definitely see it as an important moment in our relationship.” It shows what is possible with constructive cooperation with the Russians. A senior US government official said Friday that the US has been concerned for months about the near certainty of a Russian veto.
Earlier, after months of tough negotiations, the 15-member UN Security Council unanimously agreed to expand a major humanitarian aid mechanism to Syrian rebel areas. According to the adopted text, the Bab al-Hawa border crossing in northwestern Syria will remain open for another 12 months. However, the resolution leaves room for interpretation as to whether an automatic extension after six months will depend on a report by UN Secretary-General António Guterres on the effectiveness of the mechanism.
The cross-border aid is about a UN resolution that has been in existence since 2014 and that was due to expire on Saturday. The regulation allows the United Nations to move important relief supplies through border crossings into parts of the civil war country that are not controlled by the government. Russia, which supports the Syrian leadership of head of state Bashar al-Assad, had signaled in recent months that it also wanted to close the last of what were once four border crossings – Bab al-Hawa in the northwest.
The humanitarian situation in northwestern Syria is catastrophic
From the UN’s point of view, this could have led to a humanitarian catastrophe. More than two million people in the rebel areas of northern and northwest Syria depend on Turkey’s aid through the border crossing. The region is home to a total of about four million Syrians, most of them displaced, living in camps, semi-finished houses and similar poor housing. Bab al-Hawa, where about 1,000 trucks arrive every month for the UN, is seen here as the “lifeline”.
Federal Foreign Minister Heiko Maas (SPD) was “relieved” given the agreement that the extension was “an absolutely necessary step”. Aid organizations also breathed a sigh of relief. “However, you must remember that the status quo is only maintained here. Even with a resolution, the humanitarian situation in northwestern Syria is catastrophic,” Welthungerhilfe’s Syria coordinator Konstantin Witschel countered.
During the negotiations in recent days, diplomats described the mood on the Russian side as somewhat more constructive than in the past. In addition to great international pressure on Russia, they repeatedly explained this with a new US-Russian dynamic after the meeting of Presidents Joe Biden and Vladimir Putin in Switzerland in June. The two heads of state had also discussed aid to Syria. Previously, both had unanimously described the relationship between their countries, which had been overshadowed by a host of sanctions, as at “bottoming point”.
«Milestone» to the solution
“We would like to thank our American colleagues who have worked in the spirit of the agreements made by President Putin and Biden at the Geneva Summit,” said Russian Ambassador Nebsha. He also pointed to possible further cooperation between Moscow and Washington: Friday’s resolution was a “milestone” in solving the crisis in Syria.
The United Nations also welcomed the renewal of the resolution and cooperation in the Security Council: “There is nothing we would like more than close, positive and productive cooperation between the members of the Security Council, between the permanent members of the Security Council and between the United States and the Russian Federation of the United States,” said spokesman Stephane Dujarric. In recent years, the 15-member council has been repeatedly blocked in international crises, also because of the rivalry between the US and China and Russia.