When Russian Deputy Prime Minister Yuri Borisov paid a visit recently to Damascus to meet with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, the trip fueled speculation about Russia’s future trade role in Syria and whether it might challenge Iran’s dominance.
Borisov is also co-chair of the Russian-Syrian Commission on Trade, Economic, Scientific and Technical Cooperation.
The April 20 visit also spurred more talk about a recent agreement under which Russia is to lease Syria’s Tartus port for 49 years. Facing its worst fuel crisis since 2011 as a result of US sanctions, Damascus is looking to diversify oil supplies previously provided by Tehran — and now currently put on hold — with fresh proposals from Russia. Such plans are ambitious given the current status of Russian-Syrian trade.
According to the latest data collected by the Russian Foreign Trade website, based on information from the Federal Customs Service of Russia, in 2018 Russia’s trade with Syria totaled $401.5 million — a 42% rise from 2017. This was far behind Iran (which said in April 2017 that its annual trade with Syria had surpassed $1 billion), Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Lebanon, Jordan and China.