Russia, Belarus defy EU’s sanctions on Syria’s petroleum sector

Damascus has signed an agreement with interstate oil and gas company SoyuzNefteGaz to jointly prospect for oil off Syria’s Mediterranean coast, RIA Novosti reports referring to a spokeswoman for the Syrian natural resources ministry.

The deal permits the exploration of 2,190 square kilometers in the Mediterranean. The costs, which are estimated at around US$90 million, will be covered solely by SoyuzNefteGaz.

“During the first stage, which envisages research and initial prospecting, the contractor [SoyuzNefteGaz] is expected to invest 15 million,” the spokeswoman said. “Then, during test drilling, the contractor will further invest $75 million to make at least one test well”.

SoyuzNefteGaz, headed by former Russian Energy Minister Yury Shafranik, was established in 2000 to enhance economic cooperation with former Soviet countries, the Middle East and North Africa. Having participated in its establishment, Belarus’s petrochemical corporation Belnaftakhim is one of the company’s shareholders. According to the paper The Beneficiaries of Saddam’s Oil Vouchers, in early 2003 SoyuzNefteGaz signed a contract with the Iraqi authorities for developing the Rafidein oil field in southern Iraq SoyuzNefteGaz received 25.5 million barrels in the Oil-for-Food Programme.

It is noteworthy that Syria’s Oil Minister Suleiman al-Abbas expressed his satisfaction with the fact that the company would not follow ‘the unfair economic sanctions’ imposed on Syria’s oil fields.

It is to be recalled that a number of countries slapped sanctions on Syria’s oil industry in 2011-2012, blacklisting state-owned firms that oversee trade and exploration, as part of international efforts to isolate President Bashar al-Assad‘s government.

Oil production in war-torn Syria has plummeted since the conflict between government forces and armed rebels started in the country in the spring of 2011. Additionally, there are losses in this sector, which is essential for the Syrian economy, due to the destruction of infrastructure as a result of the ongoing civil war.

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