Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said on Friday that his country will support a bold new proposal by the Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura that would peacefully remove nearly 1,000 rebel fighters ensconced in the embattled city of Aleppo.
Speaking to Russia’s Channel One, Lavrov said, “We are ready to support this approach for the sake of Aleppo and will be ready to urge the Syrian government to agree.”
De Mistura, the Special Envoy, announced the unprecedented proposal on Thursday. Shedding all diplomatic airs, he spoke passionately about the need to stanch the seemingly endless attacks on Aleppo by joint Russian-Syrian forces seeking to oust rebel forces. He then offered himself as a human shield to be used by rebels so they may safely relocate. De Mistura said that of the 275,000 people trapped in the city only about 900 were part of the opposition group al-Nusra Front, and he would personally escort them out to prevent further civilian casualties.
Speaking directly to the al-Nusra fighters, de Mistura asked them to “please look at my eyes and those of the Aleppo people” before making a decision.
“If you did decide to leave, in dignity, and with your weapons, to Idlib, or anywhere you wanted to go, I personally, I am ready physically to accompany you,” the Special Envoy said, who estimated that there are as many as 100,000 children trapped there.
He also warned that this is a plan born out of urgency. The UN was out of time and immediate action must be taken.
“The bottom line is in maximum, two months, two and a half months, the city of eastern Aleppo, at this rate, may be totally destroyed,” de Mistura said.
Vitaly Churkin, the Russian Ambassador to the UN, called de Mistura’s statement “very courageous” and urged the Security Council to “rally around” the new proposal even as he quickly repudiated a France’s draft resolution on Syria.
“I cannot possibly see how we can let this resolution pass,” he told reporters at the Security Council stakeout.
France’s Ambassador to the UN François Delattre swiftly diverged from Churkin’s remarks, saying that de Mistura’s call for action “only confirms the Franco-Spanish initiative.” The draft, he said, had the support of “basically every member of the Council. So, based on this, we feel comforted.”
De Mistura’s proposal is a highly unusual one for a UN diplomat as is the prompt support of a Security Council Permanent Member country—the move comes just a week after de Mistura met with Pope Francis in an effort to stop the airstrikes, and could be the quickest path for the UN to ensure relief for Aleppo. The Security Council, the UN organ with the mandate to maintain international peace and security, has been deadlocked on a Syrian resolution as two of its Permanent Members, Russia and the United States, have remained at odds over how to end hostilities.
Standing on opposite sides of the Syrian war, the US has sided with the rebel forces while Russia has allied with President Bashar al-Assad, backing government forces with warplanes. Tensions between the US and Russia skyrocketed after a cease-fire agreement between the two nations collapsed last month. This week, the relationship strained to a breaking point.
On Friday, the US struck Russia on two fronts. Secretary of State John Kerry condemned the bombing of another hospital and called for the governments of Russia and Syria to be investigated for war crimes. Speaking in Washington, DC before meeting with French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault, Kerry said, “Those who commit these [acts] would and should be held accountable for these actions. They’re beyond the accidental now – way beyond. Years beyond the accidental.”
“This is a targeted strategy to terrorize civilians and to kill anybody and everybody who is in the way of their military objectives.”
A few hours later, the Obama administration officially accused Russia of hacking the computers of the Democratic National Committee in an attempt to interfere with the upcoming presidential elections.
Meanwhile in Moscow, the Parliament ratified a treaty with Syria, which will allow troops to stay in the war-torn country indefinitely. The day before, the Russian military cautioned the US that it would shoot down any planes that attempt airstrikes against the Syrian regime.
The Security Council has scheduled a vote on France’s draft resolution for Saturday morning, but it is highly likely Russia will veto. If that happens, Aleppo’s only hope of UN assistance may come from de Mistura’s plan.
8 October 2016 – The United Nations Security Council failed to adopt two resolutions to end the bloodshed in Syria’s besieged eastern Aleppo. Among the two resolutions, the one proposed by France and Spain failed to be adopted as it received a negative vote by permanent member Russia. Such a veto by any one of the Council’s five permanent members means a resolution cannot be adopted.