Russia dismissed a Security Council meeting Friday on the siege of Syrian towns as “unnecessary noise” that politicizes a humanitarian crisis and risks derailing upcoming peace talks.
Russian Deputy Ambassador Vladimir Safronkov questioned the motives of Britain, France and the U.S. in calling for the meeting. He accused them of “double standards” by focusing on the suffering in Madaya, a rebel-held town besieged by Syria’s government, while minimizing suffering in towns under siege by rebels.
Safronkov said the insistence on holding the Security Council debate “gives the impression” that “attempts are being made to undermine the launch of the inter-Syrian dialogue scheduled for Jan. 25” in Geneva.
“As the date for the launch draws closer there is all this unnecessary noise,” Safronkov said.
The three Western council members called for the debate to intensify the pressure on Syria’s warring parties to lift sieges that have cut off 400,000 people from aid. U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said both the Syrian government and the rebels are committing war crimes by deliberately starving civilians.
Reports of starvation deaths in Madaya have reinforced the scale of the humanitarian catastrophe in the town and other besieged areas.
Trucks from the U.N. and other humanitarian organizations entered Madaya this week for the first time in months. Two other communities, the villages of Foua and Kfarya in northern Syria, besieged by Syrian rebels were also included in the aid operation.
British Deputy Ambassador Peter Wilson said the Security Council should call on all parties to lift the sieges but he emphasized that the Syrian government “has the primary responsibility to protect Syrians.”
In a reference to Russia, Wilson said “let council members with ties to the regime use their influence, and not their air force, to address this horrific situation.”
The Security Council has been divided on how to handle the Syrian war, with Russia supporting the government of President Bashar Assad and the Western powers opposing him. Russia is conducting an air campaign in Syria that Moscow says is aimed at the Islamic State group and other extremists, but the U.S. and its allies say is also hitting moderate groups fighting Assad’s army.
Safronkov said Russia is engaging with “the relevant Syrian authorities, prompting them toward constructive cooperation with the United Nations.”
Addressing the council, Syrian Deputy Ambassador Mounzer Mounzer denied that his government was using starvation as a war tactic. He dismissed U.N. accusations that the Syrian government has impeding humanitarian access to civilians, saying any delays are due to the need to safeguard humanitarian workers and prevent aid deliveries from falling into the wrong hands.
“The Syrian government had deployed all of its efforts and resources to provide assistance to all those who are suffering without discrimination,” Mounzer said.