Russian Firm to Assume Control Over Syrian Port on Mediterranean
The Russian firm Stroytransgaz will reportedly assume operational control over the port of Tartus for a period of 49 years and invest $500 million into expanding the strategic installation in Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s Mediterranean stronghold. Moscow, which maintains a naval base at Tartus, is credited with saving the Syrian regime by intervening in the civil war in September 2015. The modernization work is expected to increase the facility’s capacity from 4 million to 38 million tons a year, according to a top Syrian official, who also claimed that the project would help Damascus alleviate the pinch of international sanctions. Russian President Vladimir Putin is eyeing major reconstruction projects in Syria as the fighting begins to wind down, and analysts believe the enhancement of Tartus will enable Russia to transfer heavy materials needed to rebuild decimated infrastructure there. Stroytransgaz is one of the largest engineering and construction companies in Russia and is 80-percent-owned by a Kremlin-linked oligarch. The Syrian regime previously granted the corporation a 50-year license to extract phosphate from the Palmyra region. Other Russian businesses have already invested in Syria’s oil fields along with other energy and mining sectors. The Tartus deal comes as Moscow seeks to stave off a Turkish offensive against US-backed Kurdish forces in eastern Syria that Ankara considers an extension of the banned PKK. Putin has also voiced concern over ongoing unrest in the northern Idlib Province, which is dominated by an Al-Qaida affiliate. In September, Putin and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan brokered a deal to create a “safe zone” in the contested region straddling the Turkish border. However, forces on all sides have failed to remove advanced weaponry from the area, and Moscow has intermittently conducted air strikes in support of Syrian troops there. Ankara fears that a large-scale operation in Idlib would cause another major wave of refugees into Turkey, which is already hosting over 3.5 million Syrians.