Russia eyes major commercial projects in Syria

December 17, 2019 GMT

MOSCOW (AP) — Russia is considering a slew of major commercial projects in Syria, a senior Russian official said Tuesday.

Deputy Prime Minister Yuri Borisov said after meeting with Syrian President Bashar Assad in Damascus that Russia will spend $500 million to modernize Syria’s commercial port of Tartus.

Borisov said in remarks carried by Russian news agencies that the four-year modernization program envisages an overhaul of the old port in Tartus and the construction of a new one.

He added that there is also a plan to build a railway across Syria and Iraq that will link Syria’s Mediterranean coast with the Persian Gulf.

Russia has a Soviet-era naval base in Tartus, the only such facility outside the former Soviet Union.

In 2017, Moscow struck a deal with Assad’s government to extend its lease on Tartus for 49 years. The agreement allows Russia to keep up to 11 warships there, including nuclear-powered ones.

Russia has waged a military campaign in Syria that helped shore up Assad’s hold on power and allowed his government to reclaim control over most of the country following a devastating civil war.

Speaking during Tuesday’s meeting with Assad in Damascus, Borisov noted that Russia helped restore a fertilizer plant in Homs and plans to invest $200 million to expand its capacity.

He also told Assad that Russia will deliver 100,000 metric tons of grain as part of humanitarian assistance to Syria. The shipments will start this month, Borisov said.

A Russian Cabinet document published Tuesday on the official state portal says that the Russian government has earmarked nearly $17 million in assistance to Syria this year. The document says it includes allocations under various United Nations programs to help municipalities and health care facilities in Syria.