Russia's ambassador to the United Nations has accused the U.S.-led coalition in Syria of trying to partition the country by setting up local governing bodies in areas seized from the Islamic State extremist group, Russian news agencies reported.
Russian Ambassador Vasily Nebenzya at a meeting of the United Nations Security Council on November 29 complained that the coalition of Kurdish and Arab fighters that recently liberated Raqqa from IS was discussing setting up governing bodies and restoring the economy without the involvement of Russia's ally, the Syrian government, Russia's Interfax and RIA news agencies reported.
Syrian Democratic Forces march in Raqqa in 2016 (Image from VOA)
"We are receiving news that the coalition is directly involved in the creation of some local authorities in the areas freed from ISIL, with which they are discussing economic reconstruction measures," Nebenzya was quoted as saying by Interfax.
"What the coalition is doing amounts to concrete steps to partition the country," he was quoted as saying by Interfax and RIA Novosti.
Russia raised its complaint as representatives from Syria's government and rebel groups gathered in Geneva for an eighth round of talks after more than six years of civil war.
Russia and Syria at the Geneva negotiations have trumpeted their recent success at reasserting government control over about 55 percent of Syrian territory, particularly by pushing IS out of some last remaining strongholds along with Syrian-Iraq border.
The key northern city of Raqqa, which was IS's self-proclaimed capital and biggest bastion in Syria, fell to forces allied with the United States, however, not those allied with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
The U.S-backed Syrian Democratic Forces, a coalition of mostly Kurdish as well as Sunni Arab fighters, has declared it wants to establish self-governing in the region it liberated. The Pentagon has tacitly backed that goal and has left U.S. forces in the area to support the coalition.
With Syria now trying to consolidate its recent military successes and regain control over lost territory, Nebenzya told the UN council on Nov. 29 that Russia will no longer accept the delivery of UN humanitarian aid across borders and conflict lines because he said that "undermines the sovereignty of Syria."
Nebenzya said the UN council's previous authorization of cross-border aid convoys, which expires next month, "was an emergency measure which presently needs to be reassessed."
Nebenzya said Russia is pushing for the change in aid delivery because "there needs to be order in the distribution of humanitarian assistance, for it not to fall into the hands of terrorists and for it not to then be resold to the Syrian people at higher prices."
USAID Assistant Administrator Lindborg Interacts With Syrian Refugees. (USAID photo)
UN humanitarian chief Mark Lowcock pressed the council to renew the aid deliveries, however, which he said are "essential to save lives."
In the first 10 months of 2017, he said, "over 750,000 people on average each month were reached through UN cross-border activities."
U.S. Deputy UN Ambassador Michele Sison said the aid program must be renewed.
"The consequences of this mandate are enormous," she said. "It's not an exaggeration to say that renewing this mandate is a life or death question."