Russia and China have blocked a UN Security Council resolution that would have extended for a year cross-border humanitarian aid to four million Syrians.
Humanitarian aid currently flows into Syria through UN-designated checkpoints without the formal permission of the regime in Damascus, but that authority is due to expire on January 10.
Germany, Belgium and Kuwait presented a resolution extending that authority for a year, winning the support of 13 council members but drawing the vetoes of Russia and China.
A competing Russian resolution that would have granted a six-month extension while reducing the number of UN crossing points was rejected, having failed to get the minimum nine votes.
Russia is a close ally and supporter of Bashar al-Assad, the Syrian President, and has used its veto 14 times on Syrian issues since the start of the country’s civil war in 2011.
Vassily Nebenzia, Russia’s ambassador to the United Nations, said the latest resolution was “obsolete” because the authorities in Damascus have “retaken control of most” of Syria’s territory.
But the UN humanitarian relief department says the aid remains crucial as the situation on the ground has deteriorated over the past year and Syria is heading into winter.
Four million Syrians directly benefit from the cross-border aid shipments while 11 million benefit from international aid after eight years of war.
Kelly Craft, the US ambassador, said she was “in a state of shock” after the vetoes.
“Today we took a huge step backwards in credibility where it really matters,” Ms Craft said. “I am deeply and profoundly disappointed at the outcome of today’s meeting.”
Anne Gueguen, France’s deputy permanent representative, called the Russian veto “irresponsible”, insisting that there was no alternative to providing aid across Syria’s borders.
The latest resolution failed just as tens of thousands of civilians flee the northwestern Idlib region due to heavy bombardments by Assad’s government, backed by Russia, in the last bastion of the jihadist opposition.
The resolution that was vetoed called for a one-year extension of the authorisation to ship humanitarian relief supplies into Syria – in effect since 2014 – through three checkpoints, two in Turkey and one in Iraq.
Hoping to overcome Russian opposition, the resolution’s sponsors on Wednesday dropped a request for a fourth point of entry on the Jordanian border, which has hardly been used since 2018.
Earlier in the week, Russia offered a competing draft resolution calling for a six-month extension, but only via the two Turkish checkpoints.
Put to a vote Friday, that proposal was rejected, with the United States, France, Britain, Poland, Peru and the Dominican Republic voting against. Germany, Belgium, Kuwait and Indonesia abstained.
Zhang Jun, China’s ambassador, said: “If you’re so concerned about Syria, then why didn’t you vote in favor of the Russian draft?”
But the British ambassador, Karen Pierce, said that the vetoes showed an unwillingness to help Syrians.
“There is time to sort it out if everybody is willing to do so,” Ms Pierce said.
“I found the crocodile tears from the Russians and Syrians about what will now happen on the ground merely yet another example of the breathtaking hypocrisy we have seen on this.”