Russia’s humanitarian role in conflicts in Donbass and Syria (in the context of “responsibility to protect”)
// Pathways to Peace and Security. 2018. no 1(54) Special Issue: Humanitarian Challenges, Humanitarian Support and Human Protection in Armed Conflicts. Edited by Ekaterina Stepanova, . P. 129-181
Primakov National Research Institute of World Economy and International Relations
23 Profsoyuznaya ul., Moscow 117997 Russia
While Russia officially supported the human security concept as formulated by the UN, it has also sharply criticized the expanded interpretation and implementation of the “Responsibility to Protect” (R2P) principle when it was employed, especially by Western states, in violation of state sovereignty. However, this article’s starting point and focus are less on theory and more on practice of Russia’s humanitarian policy towards armed conflicts. As Russia itself becomes more actively and directly involved in conflict management abroad, it increasingly faces humanitarian issues and challenges of human protection. Consequently, there is a growing gap between Russia’s growing practical humanitarian experience (that even involves some innovative practices) – and its conservative, narrow conceptual and policy approach to R2P.
In the early 21st century, Russia did not directly engage in armed conflicts and related humanitarian crises beyond its own territory (North Caucasus) and Eurasian region (South Ossetia). In the 2000s, Russia’s international humanitarian policy was largely confined to verbal support to humanitarian agenda at the UN and, at maximum, to limited humanitarian assistance sent through bilateral and international channels. However, since the mid-2010s, Russia, for the first time in its contemporary history, has had to directly react to massive humanitarian challenges abroad, in the context of intense armed conflicts in Donbass and Syria, as one of the key humanitarian actors.
This article’s main focus is on analyzing and comparing Russian humanitarian policy and activity towards crises in eastern Ukraine and in Syria. In the Donbass case, Russia has arguably come closest to exercising real human protection, acting if not strictly according to the “letter”, than at least “in the spirit” of R2P. Russia’s support to refugees from and civilian population in Donbass has been, by Russian standards, unprecedented in scale, size, nature and the degree of domestic public support to humanitarian effort across the Russian society. This time, Russia’s humanitarian role was not a mere instrument for advancing strategic goals, but also reflected genuine human solidarity. In the Syria case, Russia initially neglected acute humanitarian aspects of the escalating conflict, despite Moscow’s growing diplomatic role in conflict management. However, as Russia qualitatively upgraded its involvement in Syria, with the launch of its own military campaign followed by reinvigoration of the negotiating process, it has also expanded its humanitarian activity. By the end of the 2010s, this activity has grown into Russia’s largest humanitarian operation in a conflict zone outside Eurasia, even as it remained strictly subordinated to political-military imperatives of Syria conflict management.
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Russia, armed conflicts, human protection, humanitarian aid, Donbass, Ukraine, Syria, Responsibility to Protect (R2P), refugees, humanitarian convoys, de-escalation zones, reconstruction, human solidarity, EMERCOM, Ministry of Defense, ICRC, UN, OCHA, UNHCR, humanitarian NGOs
Stepanova E. Russia’s humanitarian role in conflicts in Donbass and Syria (in the context of “responsibility to protect”). Pathways to Peace and Security, 2018, no 1(54) Special Issue: Humanitarian Challenges, Humanitarian Support and Human Protection in Armed Conflicts. Edited by Ekaterina Stepanova, , pp. 129-181. DOI: 10.20542/2307-1494-2018-1-129-181