Friday’s UN Security Council vote surprised some U.S. officials given Russia’s longstanding opposition to the humanitarian corridor the United Nations uses to deliver aid to millions of Syrians every month. Officials said it was proof that the possibility of future cooperation between the United States and Russia was better than expected.
The vote came just as President Joe Biden issued a stern warning to Russian President Vladimir Putin to curb Russian-based criminal cyber actors who continue to target U.S. companies and federal agencies. The contrast underscores the precarious nature of US-Russian relations, with progress in some limited areas and setbacks in others.
“I certainly see it as an important moment in [the US-Russia] relationship, ”US Ambassador to the UN Linda Thomas-Greenfield told reporters, referring to the Security Council vote. “And it shows what we can do with the Russians if we work with them diplomatically on common goals. “
Greenfield added that she hoped for more “opportunities to work with the Russians on issues of common interest to our two governments.” Russian Ambassador to the UN Vassily Nebenzia also described the vote as “a turning point which is, indeed, in line with what Putin and Biden discussed in Geneva.”
Friday’s vote was no small feat. The fate of the humanitarian corridor has been a key priority for the Biden administration and was a central point of discussion between U.S. and Russian officials at the Geneva summit last month, according to people familiar with the talks. Russia had even sent its envoy to Syria, Alexander Lavrentiev, to Geneva, and the White House had sent National Security Council coordinator for the Middle East, Brett McGurk.
The United States told Russia at the summit that the Russians ‘decision to keep the passage open would be a key test of the countries’ ability to work together in the future. Some officials now believe the summit helped push Russia to vote with the United States on the humanitarian aid issue, even though Putin made no commitments at the high-stakes meeting.
“For months we have been concerned about the likelihood, if not the near certainty, of a Russian veto on the UN Security Council resolution that allows the delivery of humanitarian aid across the Syrian border from the Syrian Arab Republic. Turkey, ”said a senior administration official. told reporters on Friday. “And we have the strong feeling that only a commitment at the level of the leaders on the model of (what) took place at the Geneva summit would have made it possible to make this extension. ”
Russia has repeatedly expressed its opposition to maintaining the Bab al-Hawa border post, located on the Syrian-Turkish border, and Russian officials have called the humanitarian corridor used by the United Nations a violation of Syrian sovereignty. Russia’s vote on Friday at the UN Security Council, where it has a veto right, was therefore a bit of a drag.
Officials in the Biden administration, including the National Security Council and the United Nations, have been “fighting” with Russia to keep the crossing open for months, according to a US official. The Biden administration felt it was in the throes of the “fiasco,” as the official described it, following misguided Trump-era policies that failed to convince the Russians to maintain multiple other border posts in Syria open.
At the start of this week, there was still little indication of how Russia would vote – Russia ignored UN Security Council negotiations over the aid corridor on Tuesday, and U.S. officials and The UN told CNN this week they were preparing for a reprimand and weighing the potential “Plan B” to deliver aid to northwestern Syria, where millions of people have been displaced to. because of the civil war that lasted ten years.
“Syria is the biggest humanitarian crisis in the world today,” said Mark Cutts, UN deputy regional humanitarian coordinator for the Syrian crisis. “The people in these camps are mostly women, children and the elderly. They are totally dependent on aid that crosses the Turkish border. This aid corridor has proven to be the only safe and reliable way to deliver aid to these people. It is one of the most vulnerable populations in the world. He called Friday’s vote “very encouraging.”
Current and former officials and experts on Syria have said that although Russia is Syrian President Bashar Assad’s greatest ally, and the United States opposes his rule, Moscow still sees the interest in it. American involvement in the country, especially when it comes to finding a political solution to the problem. conflict, increase regional stability and fight against ISIS and other terrorist groups.
“The Russians want a victory in Syria – both a specific victory, where Assad reigns supreme, and a big step forward in an evolving architecture where they can use Syria as a good example” of a functioning state said Jim Jeffrey, who served as the Trump administration’s special envoy to Syria. But Russia needs American help to do it, Jeffrey said, this is where American influence lies.
To that end, Russia pushed the United States to reduce or eliminate sanctions against Assad and his allies, raising questions about what Washington would be willing to concede in return for increased cooperation with Moscow in the country – y understood against Iran, which has a relationship of appeasement with Russia, but is not fundamentally aligned with it.
Asked on Friday what Russia got in return for agreeing to keep the border post open, the senior administration official objected and told reporters they would leave it up to Russia to explain its justification for the vote.
U.S. officials have said that while there are currently no plans to reduce the sanctions against Assad that have been imposed in recent years, they recognize that the sanctions have had a negative impact on the Syrian civilian population, including understood on the issue of Covid relief. Discussions are underway on how to mitigate the impact of the sanctions on the population, but no political decision has been taken to withdraw the sanctions against Assad, officials said.