President Bashar al Assad said on Monday he wanted to expand business ties with Russia to help Syria cope with new US sanctions on its already crippled economy that threaten to undermine military gains Damascus achieved with Moscow’s help.
Assad spoke during a meeting in Damascus with Russian Deputy Prime Minister Yuri Borisov and Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov.
Lavrov told a news conference Syria needed international help to rebuild its economy. Borisov said Russia was helping Syria to fix its power plants but said oil output could not resume as the fields were in areas outside government control.
Syria and Russia, whose military support since 2015 helped Damascus reverse gains by Islamists and other rebels in an almost decade-long war, had said the two sides planned to boost trade ties and would review energy, mining and power projects.
“The government was determined to continue to work with Russian allies to implement signed agreements and to ensure the success of Russian investments in Syria,” Assad said, according to state media.
Borisov said Moscow had presented proposals in July to expand economic ties and expected an agreement would be sealed in December on his next visit to Syria’s capital. He said Moscow wanted to help Damascus break the blockade of US sanctions.
Syria has pinned hopes on Russia, its main foreign ally, while Western diplomats say Russia’s military involvement in Syria has secured Moscow major regional influence and a bigger foothold in a naval base in Syria’s Tartus port.
“Russia turned the tide for Assad and with the regime now facing its gravest challenges, Moscow is in a better position than any other time to further squeeze Assad,” said one Western diplomat who follows Syria.
Although Assad has now regained most of the territory he had lost in the war, the economy is in tatters, leaving many Syrians in poverty as the currency has lost 80% of its value.
Russia has criticised the new US sanctions that took effect in June under the so-called Caesar Act.
Washington says the sanctions, which penalise foreign firms dealing with Syrian government entities, aim to cut revenue for Assad’s government and push him back into UN-led talks to end the conflict.
US to impose sanctions aimed at blocking Syria military victory
The United States will impose sanctions on Wednesday aimed at cutting off revenue for Syrian President Bashar al Assad’s government in a bid to push it back into United Nations-led negotiations and broker an end to the country’s nearly decade-long war.
US Ambassador to the UN Kelly Craft told the Security Council on Tuesday that Washington would implement the measures to “prevent the Assad regime from securing a military victory.”
“Our aim is to deprive the Assad regime of the revenue and the support it has used to commit the large-scale atrocities and human rights violations that prevent a political resolution and severely diminish the prospects for peace,” Craft said.
Russia and China criticized the US plan to impose further unilateral sanctions. Russia’s UN Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia said the United States had confirmed: “that the purpose of these measures is to overthrow the legitimate authorities of Syria.”
China’s UN Ambassador Zhang Jun said that “as vulnerable countries like Syria are struggling with the (coronavirus) pandemic, imposing more sanctions is simply inhumane and may cause additional catastrophes.”
Craft said the sanctions would be imposed under the Caesar Syria Civilian Protection Act – signed by President Donald Trump in December – which aims to deter “bad actors who continue to aid and finance the Assad regime’s atrocities against the Syrian people while simply enriching themselves.”
Addressing a separate meeting of the Geneva-based UN Human Rights Council on Tuesday, Syria’s UN Ambassador Bashar Ja’afari, accused Washington of trying to impose US law on the world and flouting calls for it to end unilateral sanctions.
A crackdown by Assad on pro-democracy protesters in 2011 led to civil war, with Moscow backing Assad and Washington supporting the opposition.
Millions of people have fled Syria and millions are internally displaced.