Russia vetoed a French-drafted U.N. Security Council resolution on Saturday that would have demanded an end to air strikes and military flights over Syria’s city of Aleppo, while a rival Russian draft text didn’t succeed after failing to get a minimum nine votes.
There are about 275,000 people trapped by the siege of eastern Aleppo, where civilians are suffering through daily bombing, including by bunker-buster and incendiary weapons, and through starvation, as limited supplies run out and aid convoys are blocked from the city.
The Russian ambassador to the UN, Vitaly Churkin, currently presiding over the security council, cast the veto against a Franco-Spanish resolution that had demanded an end to all aerial bombardment and overflights of Aleppo by Russian and Syrian regime aircraft. The resolution also called for a resumed ceasefire and the delivery of humanitarian supplies to besieged population.
The Russian foreign ministry said the Franco-Spanish resolution “distorted” the real situation in Syria, and that a ban on aerial bombardment would “provide cover to terrorists from Jabhat al-Nusra” and allied militants.
It is the fifth time Russia has vetoed a UN resolution on Syria during the more than five-year conflict.
The previous four times, Russia was backed by China, but on Saturday, China abstained from the vote.
China abstained, further isolating Russia on the issue, along with Angola. Venezuela was the only other country to vote with Russia against the resolution.
Eleven of the 15 council members voted in favor of the draft resolution.
Russian draft failed
After Russia’s veto, the council moved to the second vote on the Russian-drafted counter-resolution, but it failed to gather enough votes to pass.
The Russian resolution, which omitted mention of aerial bombardment, was voted down with nine votes against and four in favor.
China’s U.N. Ambassador Liu Jieyi said some of the content of the French draft “does not reflect the full respect for the sovereignty, independence, unification and territorial integrity of Syria,” while the content of the Russian draft did.
“We regret that the (Russian draft) resolution was not adopted,” he told the council.
Russia only gained the support of China, Venezuela and Egypt for its draft resolution. Angola and Uruguay abstained, while the remaining nine council members voted against.
Churkin, who is council president for October, described the dual votes on Saturday as one of the “strangest spectacles in the history of the Security Council.”
“Given that the crisis in Syria is at a critical stage, when it is particularly important that there be a coordination of the political efforts of the international community, this waste of time is inadmissible,” Churkin told the council.
Aleppo being destroyed, global tension
“Normally I begin my statement with, ‘Thank you Mr President’,” Matthew Rycroft, the UK ambassador to the UN, said at the start of his remarks. “I cannot do this today.”
“This council cannot stand by while such misery is meted out on the people of Aleppo. And yet, thanks to you, Mr President, that is exactly what we are doing,” Rycroft told the council. “Thanks to your actions today, Syrians will continue to lose their lives in Aleppo and beyond to Russian and Syrian bombing. Please stop now.”
In response to Rycroft’s comments, Vitaly Churkin, Russia’s ambassador to the UN, said “the UK should stop supporting terrorists instead”.
“Stop supporting all the villains across the world, including terrorists,” he said.
“Stop interfering in the internal affairs of sovereign states. Stop your colonial habits. Leave the world in peace and then, maybe, things will improve in many areas and regions of the world.”
“Russia has become one of the chief purveyors of terror in Aleppo, using tactics more commonly associated with thugs than governments,” U.S. Deputy Ambassador to the United Nations David Pressman told the council.
He said Russia was “intent on allowing the killing to continue and, indeed, participating in carrying it out” and that what was needed from Moscow was “less talk and more action from them to stop the slaughter.”
Angola’s U.N. Ambassador Ismael Gaspar Martins said his country abstained on both votes because it did not want to be drawn into the acrimony between the United States and Russia.
The United States on Monday suspended talks with Russia on implementing a ceasefire deal in Syria, accusing Moscow of not living up to its commitments to halt fighting and ensure aid reached besieged communities.
Aleppo is being destroyed
According to diplomats, the UN envoy on Syria, Staffan de Mistura, told the security council that the presence of roughly 1,000 Nusra fighters was being used as a pretext for the bombing of 275,000 people and had offered to personally escort the militant group out of the city to guarantee their safe passage.
At the present rate of bombardment of eastern Aleppo, De Mistura said the city would be totally destroyed by December. The UN secretary general, Ban Ki-moon, called it “worse than a slaughterhouse”.
“Russia has once again abused its veto privilege and sabotaged the UN security council, this time stonewalling efforts to stop the vicious assault on east Aleppo’s civilians,” said Louis Charbonneau, UN director at Human Rights Watch.
“Today’s vote is a stark reminder of the urgent need for permanent members of the security council to shelve the veto in situations of mass atrocities, an idea supported by a vast majority of countries around the world. The ball is now in the court of the UN general assembly, which should feel compelled to hold an emergency meeting, demand an end to unlawful attacks on civilians in Aleppo, 100,000 of whom are children, and explore avenues for accountability.”
The Assad regime forces, backed by Russian air power, Iranian ground forces and Shi’ite militia fighters from Iran, Iraq, and Lebanon, has been tightening its grip on rebel-held districts of Aleppo this year, and this summer achieved a long-held goal of fully encircling the area.
Recovering full control of the rebels’ last significant urban area would be the most important victory of the war so far for Assad, strengthening his control over Syria’s most populous and strategically important regions.