Russia has sought to use humanitarian aid and a grain deal for leverage and blackmail. The recent reports show that Moscow not only upended a deal at the UN to enable aid into northwest Syria but it has also sought to sabotage a grain deal it had with Turkey, the UN and Ukraine.
The UN Secretary-General says Russia's decision to exit the deal will "strike a blow to people in need everywhere,” according to the BBC. The US has also slammed Russia for "holding humanity hostage.” Ukraine’s president Volodymyr Zelensky would like to continue the grain deal. US Secretary of State Antony Blinken has said that Russia is weaponizing food through its decisions and that this is "unconscionable.”
At the same time Russia sabotaged a deal to let aid into Syria. Syria has been divided since the Syrian civil war began in 2011. The US-backed SDF controls eastern Syria and Turkey has occupied parts of northwest Syria, such as the region of Afrin. Russia backs the Syrian regime. Moscow and Syria want to cut off aid to areas influenced by the US or Turkey.
The goal here is to basically starve those areas of resources so that the regime can return to control them. The international community has failed to open corridors for aid, letting Moscow basically use its power at the UN to cut off aid.
The VOA now reports that the “United Nations agency responsible for overseeing humanitarian aid has described conditions placed by the Syrian government on aid deliveries from Turkey to northwest Syria as ‘unacceptable.’” The report says “the future delivery of aid across Syria's northern border was thrown into question Tuesday after the U.N. Security Council was unable to agree on either of two competing proposals to extend the mandate for bringing aid from Turkey by way of the Bab al Hawa border crossing.”
Blackmailing the wider region
Russia has backed Syria but it using the crossing to blackmail the wider region. This could lead to instability and radicalization. Turkish-backed extremists have already persecuted minorities in the areas now being denied aid. It’s possible there could be blowback if the border is closed. Ankara has been trying to force Syrian refugees to return to Syria. How can they return if there is no aid flowing through the single road that is open?
Clearly, Russia’s stance on Syria and the Ukraine grain deal are linked. In both cases, Russia uses humanitarian deals to advance its interests. It is also interesting that this occurred after Turkey dropped its opposition to Sweden joining NATO. Russia, Turkey and Iran often meet to discuss Syrian issues as part of the Astana process that goes back to 2016. They all oppose the US role in Syria.
However Ankara has other interests, it wants F-16s from the US and wants to balance ties with Russia with the US. Russia has its interests to use the grain deal in Ukraine and the Syrian aid deal to advance its power in Syria and Ukraine. Therefore all these issues are connected and Russia is using both Syria and Ukraine to achieve new demands. What those demands may be is not fully revealed by current reports because Moscow has not said what it wants in return for enabling the grain flow and opening the border.