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Russian vote to keep important Syrian border crossing open for humanitarian aid gives Biden administration important diplomatic gain

Friday’s vote in the UN Security Council surprised some US officials, given Russia’s long-standing opposition to the humanitarian corridor used by the UN to provide aid to millions of Syrians each month. Officials said it was evidence that the possibility of future cooperation between the United States and Russia is better than expected.

The vote came at a time when President Joe Biden was warning a strong warning to Russian President Vladimir Putin to rein in Russian-based criminal cyber-actors who continue to target US companies and federal agencies. The contrast underscores the uncertain nature of US-Russia relations with progress in some limited areas and setbacks in others.

“I certainly see it as an important moment in [the US-Russia] “The U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Linda Thomas-Greenfield, told reporters, referring to the Security Council vote.”

; And it shows what we can do with the Russians if we work diplomatically with them on common goals. ”

Greenfield added that she was hoping for more “opportunities to work with the Russians on issues of common interest to our two governments.” Russia’s ambassador to the UN, Vassily Nebenzia, also described the vote as “a turning point that is in line with what Putin and Biden discussed in Geneva.”

“It shows that we can cooperate when there is a need and when there is also a will,” Nebenzia told reporters on Friday.

Friday’s vote was not a small feat. The fate of the humanitarian corridor has been a key priority for the Biden administration and was a key point of discussion between US 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 sent National Security Council Middle East Coordinator Brett McGurk.

The United States conveyed to Russia during this summit that the Russians ‘decision to keep the transition open would be a key test of the countries’ ability to work together in the future. Some officials now believe the summit was instrumental in pushing Russia to vote with the United States on the issue of humanitarian aid, although Putin did not commit himself during the high-level meeting.

“For months, we have been concerned about the likelihood, if not the immediate security, of a Russian veto of a UN Security Council resolution allowing humanitarian aid across the Syrian border from Turkey,” a senior official told reporters on Friday. “And it is our strong sense that only leadership-level engagement in the direction of (what) took place at the Geneva Summit would have had this extension done.”

Russia had repeatedly expressed opposition to maintaining the Bab al-Hawa border crossing, which lies on the border between Syria and Turkey, and Russian officials have described the humanitarian corridor used by the UN as a violation of Syrian sovereignty. Russia’s vote on Friday in the UN Security Council, which has a veto, was therefore something of a curveball.

Biden administration officials, including at the National Security Council and at the UN, had “fought” with Russia to keep the transition open for several months, according to a U.S. official. The Biden administration felt it was sitting with the “failure”, as the official described it, as a result of misguided Trump-era policies that did not convince the Russians to keep several other border crossings in Syria open.

As earlier this week, there was still little indication of how Russia would vote – Russia skipped UN Security Council talks on the aid corridor on Tuesday, and US and UN officials told CNN this week that they supported a reprimand and weighing potential “Plan B’s” to get help for northwestern Syria, where millions have been displaced from the decade-long civil war.

“Syria is the biggest humanitarian crisis in the world today,” said Mark Cutts, the UN’s deputy regional humanitarian coordinator for the Syria crisis. “The people in these camps are mostly women, children and the elderly. They are completely dependent on the help that has come across the border from Turkey. The aid corridor has proved to be the only safe and reliable way to get help for these people. This is one of the most vulnerable populations in the world. “He called Friday’s vote” very encouraging. “

Current and former Syrian officials and experts said that although Russia is Syrian President Bashar Assad’s biggest ally and the United States opposes his rule, Moscow still sees value in US involvement in the country – especially when it comes to finding a political solution. conflict, increased regional stability and countering ISIS and other terrorist groups.

“The Russians want a victory in Syria – both a specific victory where Assad rules at the top and a big step forward in a changing 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 that, Jeffrey said, where U.S. leverage lies.

To this end, Russia has pushed the United States to reduce or eliminate sanctions against Assad and his allies and raised questions about what Washington would be willing to give in exchange for further cooperation with Moscow in the country – including against Iran, which has a convenience relationship. with Russia, but is not fundamentally adapted to them.

Asked on Friday what Russia got in return for agreeing to keep the border crossing open, the senior administration official opposed it, telling reporters they would leave it to Russia to explain its eligibility for the vote.

U.S. officials said that while there are currently no plans to reduce the sanctions against Assad that have been imposed over the past many years, they acknowledge that the sanctions have had a negative impact on Syria’s civilian population, including in the issue on Covid relief. Discussions are underway on how to mitigate the impact of the sanctions on the population, but no political decisions have been made to withdraw any of the sanctions against Assad, officials said.

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