FT: Russian Business First in Line for Spoils of Syrian War

As Moscow faced pressure to exert its influence in Syria by halting a deadly bombing campaign on eastern Ghouta this week, Russian executives gathered in a conference room to discuss business prospects in the war-torn Arab state, Financial Times reports.

More than 200 executives crowded into the Russian Chamber of Commerce where they attended a Syrian-Russian business forum, hoping to cash in on Moscow’s military role in Syria. According to FT, the businessmen peddled everything from power station engineering services to shipping as they eyed deals they expect to emerge when the fighting eventually ends.

“$200bn to $500bn will be needed for the reconstruction of the Syrian economy, and the first priority will, as President Bashar al-Assad has said, be given to Russian businesses,” Sergei Katyrin, the chamber’s president, noted.

Syrian government officials turned up at the gathering in Moscow with a file of 26 projects in which Damascus is seeking Russian investment, and these included a planned rail line linking the Syrian capital to its airport, industrial plants to produce anything from cement to yeast and tyres, and power generation projects in Homs.

However, the projects face significant challenges, not least the question of who will pay. Moscow, which intervened militarily in 2015 and tipped the balance of the war in Assad’s favour, has been desperate to get European governments to help fund reconstruction efforts. But EU states insist there first has to be a political agreement to end the conflict and are determined not to hand reconstruction funds to Assad, FT adds.

“I visited Syria several times last year, but so far there is nothing we can do there. I went to both Damascus and Homs, and it was quiet and felt safe. But it remains unclear how we can do business there given the western sanctions on Syrian oil.” said Dmitry Kapitanov, head of export at Rimera, a Russian oilfield services company.

Before the war, oil and gas contributed about a quarter of the Syrian government’s revenue. But gas production in 2017 was half its pre-conflict level and oil production has fallen from 383,000 barrels per day to just 8,000b/d, FT writes.