La Croix: Two attempts to evacuate civilians from Mariupol, in southeastern Ukraine, have failed in recent days. Are the Russians reliable when they accept the establishment of a humanitarian corridor?
Alain Boinet: As a representative of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) said recently, it is always very complicated to implement humanitarian corridors because they are first negotiated by the belligerents.
Concretely, they must agree on the conditions of this evacuation – time, means implemented, routes taken to carry it out, securing the maneuver, people who can benefit from it –, knowing that the camp besieging the city still fears that fighters mingle with civilians to escape their encirclement. Fighters who, once outside the city, will have the possibility of joining other front lines.
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At this point, the Russians and Ukrainians have not come to an agreement: any evacuation of civilians is therefore subject to the violence of the armed forces on the ground, as seen in Mariupol.
What should be done to reach a serious agreement?
A.B: We must not interrupt the negotiations and bet on the will to find an agreement on both sides under the aegis of the UN. But for now, the UN is very quiet. However, without an agreement guaranteed by the United Nations, it will be very difficult to put it in place. There is, however, an emergency in Mariupol, where 200,000 people are trapped: without supplies, without heating, without electricity, without water, without medicines. The situation will very quickly become inhuman for them.
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The population held out for three years in Sarajevo when it was surrounded by the Serbs because supplies were possible, the airport was functioning, humanitarian convoys were passing through, tunnels had been built. It was risky but doable. In Mariupol, it will be more difficult because the airport is not held by the besieged.
Can we trust Vladimir Putin’s word when he has never stopped lying about Ukraine?
A.B: What I see is that Emmanuel Macron is still talking with the Russian president: we have to keep in touch. As long as there are negotiations there is hope. It’s true, trusting Putin is a risk to take to evacuate the 200,000 people from Mariupol. But what are the other options? There are not any.
In Aleppo, despite negotiations with the Russians, the humanitarian corridors also suffered from their bombardments…
A.B: In Syria, this agreement was even more difficult to find because the parties involved in the conflict were numerous. In Aleppo, alongside the Russians, there were also Bashar Al Assad’s armed forces and pro-Assad militias. This proliferation of actors has increased the vulnerability of humanitarian corridors. Especially since, among the evacuated civilians, there were also combatants.
Kiev refused the Russian humanitarian corridor. Is this a good thing for civilians?
A.B: I don’t have to judge Kiev’s decisions: the Ukrainians are at war, it’s up to them to decide what they want or not. One can understand, however, that it is not acceptable for them to envisage an evacuation in the direction of Belarus and Russia only. I think they have some leeway because Putin also needs to come to an agreement not to be accused of waging war on civilians. If such an accusation is brought against him, then the nature of the war changes. The consequences for Putin will be even heavier and more serious.