Creative Coalitions: A Handbook for Change

Case Study: Exploiting Exceptional Relationships to get Aid to Starving People in Syria

Russia is infamously hard to influence. Yet on Syria they have been at the centre of the power analysis. In 2014, hundreds of thousands of people were in need of food and medical supplies in northern Syria. Some aid was getting over the border, but because the Syrian Government was denying aid agencies permission to cross from Turkey, the supply was a trickle, and vulnerable to attack. A UN Security Council Resolution would give the UN permission to take aid across the border. Agreement from Russia would be critical to securing that resolution.

There came a window of opportunity. Russia was to host the Winter Olympics in Sochi, in February 2014. The eyes of the world were watching the country and its President, Vladimir Putin.

Having identified this opportunity with our partners, Crisis Action had to mobilise voices that could appeal to President Putin’s sense of global statesmanship and Russian stewardship. We reached out to allies like former US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and former Deputy UN Secretary-General, Mark Malloch-Brown. Because they agreed with the theory of change and saw their role in seeing it realised, they not only signed a letter, but secured the support of a further 49 former top diplomats, philanthropists and human rights defenders, including former US Senate Majority Leader George Mitchell, former NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, and former Jordanian Foreign Minister Marwan Muasher. Their joint letter was published in Russia’s Novaya Gazeta, the UK’s Financial Times, the New York Times, and France’s Le Monde.

Following the Sochi push, the UN Security Council unanimously agreed its first, landmark, resolution to address the humanitarian situation in Syria. This included the specific demands that Crisis Action had been enabling partners to advocate for on lifting blocks on humanitarian access, both across the conflict’s frontlines and Syria’s borders.

The Security Council had failed to address the humanitarian crisis in nearly three years of fighting. Crisis Action identified an opening to get agreement; and they engaged their network of contacts to bring together this incredibly impressive array of respected global figures. From people who were involved in the negotiations, we know this was influential in getting Resolution 2139.

Lord Malloch-Brown, former Deputy Secretary-General of the United Nations

It still took a few months, but thanks to the collective efforts that secured this Resolution, UN aid trucks crossed Syria’s borders for the first time.

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