Russia to invest $500m in Syrian port of Tartus

 Moscow intends to develop the port for commercial use © Russian Defence Ministry/TASS – FINANCIAL TIMES 11 Jan2020 

Russia will invest $500m in the port of Tartus in its largest ever investment in Syria, as Moscow seeks to leverage its position as the most powerful foreign player in the war-torn country.Moscow entered the Syrian war in 2015 with a military onslaught that helped President Bashar al-Assad turn the conflict in favour of his regime and made Russia a critical powerbroker in the Middle East.


Tartus is the home of Russia’s sole naval base outside the former Soviet Union and gives Moscow a critical beachhead in the Mediterranean. In 2017, Russia struck a deal to lease Tartus for 49 years and expand its use to civilian business purposes, and has said it plans to make it a centrepiece of efforts to rebuild the country’s destroyed economy.


“The Russian side intends to improve the operations of the old port and build a new commercial port,” Yuri Borisov, Russian deputy prime minister, told reporters after meeting Mr Assad in Damascus on Tuesday. “The overall amount of investment within the next four years is estimated at $500m,” he said.


While Syria’s near nine-year war is continuing in some parts of the country, Moscow is pushing efforts to find a post-conflict peace settlement and drum up international finance to rebuild the country’s infrastructure. Mr Borisov said motorways, airports and a railway connecting Tartus to Iraq that would allow goods to be shipped to the Gulf were also discussed.


Russian industrial group Stroytranzgas, headed by Gennady Timchenko, a longtime friend of President Vladimir Putin who is subject to US sanctions over his links to the Kremlin, has built gas processing plants in Syria and recently took control of a phosphate mine and fertiliser production facility. Russian media reports said Stroytranzgas would manage the Tartus port.


Russia will also ship 100,000 tonnes of grain to Syria as humanitarian aid, Mr Borisov said, with shipments beginning at the end of the month and running until mid-2020.


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Moscow established the Tartus naval base under a 1971 deal with Damascus. The port can hold 11 warships and is a crucial part of Russia’s military presence in the Middle East, allowing its naval ships to refuel and re-arm without returning home via Istanbul and the Black Sea.


Mr Borisov also said he and Mr Assad had discussed the issue of Syria’s oilfields in the country’s north-east, which US president Donald Trump has said would remain under the protection of American troops, despite his decision to withdraw from the country.


“The situation on the eastern bank of the Euphrates River has been improving. I think that all mineral resources of the Syrian Arab Republic will pass to under the control of the government and the situation will stabilise at some point,” Mr Borisov said.


The US withdrawal prompted an incursion into Syria by Turkey against Kurdish-led forces previously protected by the US. Moscow stepped in as a mediator, with Russian troops patrolling the border.