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Exclusive - China, Russia Lead Campaign to Avoid Politicization of Coronavirus in Syria

Exclusive - China, Russia Lead Campaign to Avoid Politicization of Coronavirus in Syria

Friday, 27 March, 2020 - 06:30
A man walks in empty Souk al-Hamidieh as restrictions are imposed as measure to prevent the spread of the coronavirus in Damascus, Syria March 24, 2020. (Reuters)
London – Ibrahim Hamidi

China and Russia have used the new coronavirus pandemic as an opportunity to lead efforts at the United Nations to lift American and European sanctions against a number of countries, including Syria. They have sized on UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres’ recent call for a nationwide ceasefire in Syria to demand sanctions relief.

In a letter to Guterres, they called for lifting the “unilateral coercive measures, which are illegal and blatantly violate international law and the Charter of the United Nations” and for avoiding the politicization of the coronavirus.

“The destructive impact of said measures at the national level, plus their extraterritorial implications, together with the phenomena of over-compliance and the fear for ‘secondary sanctions’, hinder the ability of the national governments to, among others, have regular access to the international financial system or to free trade; thus undermining ongoing efforts of national government to attack the COVID-19, especially in relation to the effective and timely procurement of medical equipment and supplies, including testing kits and medications,” read the letter that was signed by representatives of China, Russia, Venezuela, Nicaragua, Bolivia, Syria, North Korea and Cuba

“In addition, the sanctions also have a direct negative impact on, among others, the human rights to lifer, health and food of the peoples subjected to them. Ultimately, these measures also affect the essential cooperation and solidarity that should prevail among nations,” said the letter, a copy of which was obtained by Asharq Al-Awsat. The representatives therefore, called on Guterres to immediately lift the “illegal” and oppressive sanctions.

The letter was released days after a visit paid by Russian Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu to Damascus, where he met regime leader Bashar Assad to address the Russian leadership’s regional and international efforts to break the siege and lift sanctions against Syria.

Beijing is believed to be using the war against the coronavirus to achieve political gains on the international scene, taking advantage of the “absence” of the American role in fighting the pandemic. Washington, in return, has been criticizing China over the outbreak, accusing it of “disinformation”.

A high-ranking western official told Asharq Al-Awsat that the letter to Guterres holds no executive power because the sanctions against Syria are imposed by the US Treasury and the European Commission.

“Russia and China are better off providing humanitarian and medical assistance and exerting pressure to reach a comprehensive ceasefire instead of addressing the UN,” he said.

Washington and Brussels don’t appear to be abandoning the economic sanctions approach against the regime and its officials and allies. Efforts are also underway to speed up the implementation of the Caesar Act that would impose sanctions against parties seeking to contribute in Syria’s reconstruction before a credible political process is implemented. The act is expected to take effect in mid-June.

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