The Russian ambassador to the United Nations on Wednesday called on all sides of the conflict in Yemen to meet as soon as possible to work toward a political solution to the fighting there, which has killed an estimated 1,500 since escalating in March. Vitaly Churkin also suggested the U.N. Security Council, of which Russia is a permanent member, could help mediate a peace agreement.
Churkin’s comments came 24 hours into a humanitarian ceasefire agreed upon by warring sides on the ground and the Saudi-led coalition conducting airstrikes against Houthi rebels to support the government of the embattled former president, Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi. Hadi who fled the country in late March as Houthi forces swept toward the government stronghold of Aden, in the south of the country. Churkin's comments echoed a statement by the whole of the Security Council made earlier Wednesday, which called for U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to hold a peace conference among parties.
While the fragile ceasefire has generally held over the last day, isolated fighting during its first hours raised concern that it would be ineffective in halting fighting on the ground, which has devastated Yemen’s civilian population in both the Houthi-held north and government-held south. Houthi rebels, who are Shiite Muslims, ramped up their insurgency late last year with the goal of deposing Hadi, a Saudi- and U.S.-backed Sunni, and reinstating his predecessor Ali Abdullah Saleh.
Both sides on the ground and the Saudi-led coalition warned they would resume fighting if the other broke the ceasefire, which could be disastrous for Yemen’s civilian population, which is waiting for desperately needed humanitarian supplies that are in the process of being shipped to the country via neighboring states. While the Saudi-led coalition of 11 nations supported by the U.S. and its allies has yet to enter Yemen on the ground, Saudi Arabia has, over the course of the conflict, amassed a large force along its border with Yemen. The coalition ramped up its air campaign and exchanged heavy artillery fire with Houthi forces along the Saudi-Yemeni border in the 24 hours leading up to the ceasefire.
The coalition has at times entertained the idea of conducting a ground campaign, but Churkin strongly opposed any such operation on Wednesday.
“The start of a military operation involving foreign contingents might have absolutely disastrous aftermaths,” he said, according to the Russian state-run news outlet Tass. “The humanitarian disaster there might be highly aggravated.”
At least 828 civilians have died because of the fighting, including 182 children and 91 women. Another 1,500 civilians have been wounded, according to the U.N. Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights.