Russia, backed by China, casts 14th U.N. veto on Syria to block cross-border aid

UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - Russia, backed by China, on Friday cast its 14th U.N. Security Council veto since the start of the Syrian conflict in 2011 to block cross-border aid deliveries from Turkey and Iraq to millions of Syrian civilians.

The resolution, drafted by Belgium, Kuwait and Germany, would have allowed cross-border humanitarian deliveries for a further 12 months from two points in Turkey and one in Iraq. But Syrian ally Russia only wanted to approve the two Turkish crossings for six months and had proposed its own draft text.

Russia and China vetoed the text while the remaining 13 members of the Security Council voted in favor. A resolution needs a minimum nine votes in favor and no vetoes by Russia, China, the United States, Britain or France to pass.

U.S. Ambassador Kelly Craft told the council after the Russia and China vetoes that she was in a state of shock, saying the consequences “will be disastrous.” She described Russia and China’s opposition as “reckless, irresponsible and cruel.”

The council then voted on the rival Russian draft resolution that would have approved the two Turkish crossing points for six months, but it failed with only five votes in favor, six against and four abstentions.

“Who won today? Nobody. Who lost? The Syrian people,” Russia’s U.N. ambassador, Vassily Nebenzia, told the council. He had argued that the humanitarian situation in Syria has improved dramatically and that the council had to recognize that change.

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“Do not attempt to shift blame for this on us,” he said.

Deputy U.N. aid chief Ursula Mueller had warned the council on Thursday that without the cross border operations “we would see an immediate end of aid supporting millions of civilians.”

“That would cause a rapid increase in hunger and disease, resulting in death, suffering and further displacement - including across borders - for a vulnerable population who have already suffered unspeakable tragedy as a result of almost nine years of conflict,” Mueller said.

Since 2014 the United Nations and aid groups have crossed into Syria from Turkey, Iraq and Jordan at four places annually authorized by the Security Council. In a bid to compromise with Russia, the Jordan crossing was dropped by Belgium, Kuwait and Germany from their draft.

The current authorization for the four border crossings in Turkey, Iraq and Jordan ends on Jan. 10, so the Security Council could still attempt to reach an agreement, though some diplomats acknowledged this could now be difficult.

In a Dec. 16 report to the council, U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres urged the council to extend authorization of the cross-border deliveries.

“We very much hope a solution can be found in the days ahead,” U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric said on Friday.

Russia has vetoed 14 council resolutions on Syria since a crackdown by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad on pro-democracy protesters in 2011 led to civil war. Islamic State militants then used the chaos to seize territory in Syria and Iraq.

Indonesia’s U.N. ambassador, Dian Triansyah Djani, told the council on Thursday: “The world is watching. The international community is watching. But we are not here to just watch ... we are here to help and take action ... It is not about us. It is all about saving Syrian people on the ground.”

Reporting by Michelle Nichols; editing by Grant McCool and Leslie Adler