To the charges against Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad of mass murder, ethnic cleansing, and crimes against humanity can now be added another compelling allegation: He’s a deadbeat.
According to a classified Western intelligence report seen by The Daily Beast, the Syrian regime currently owes the Russian government $60 million for a consignment of crude oil imported last October, and, while Damascus insists it’s got the money to settle its debt—apparently, it’s all “cash” and tied up domestically—it’s nevertheless stalling for time while also asking for another shipment of Russian crude, and at a reduced price no less.
Frustrated with bailing out an economically straitened client-state, the Kremlin told the Syrians to pay up first, according to the report.
On Dec. 11, Duraid Durgham, the governor of the Syrian Central Bank, was in Moscow on an unpublicized visit to discuss his regime’s in-arrears status and other Syrian-Russian economic matters.
In October 2017, Moscow and Tehran transferred 1 million barrels of crude to Syria, an amount which, analysts say, conforms to the national consumption rate since civil war broke out there.
“From the [Russian] side, Promsyr’yeimport… coordinated the deal,” the report reads. “Both Syria and [Russia] are planning to continue with this kind of cooperation also in 2018.”
Promsyr’yeimport is a Russian state entity which, according to its website, engages in “commercial operations in the sphere of foreign trade and other forms of foreign economic activity, and on the basis of this, assistance to the development of coal iron, steel and other industries.”
The Russians, who have made something of a photo-op sport of humiliating Assad as a hapless and inferior dependent, say no more crude until he gets square.
During his secretive visit to Moscow, Durgham, who is sanctioned by both the United States and the European Union, met with Russian Energy Minister Alexander Novak as well as representatives of various Russian banks, including Sberbank, the country’s largest, as well as VEB, the Russian Financial Corporation Bank, and CMR Bank. He also met with the Russian state arms dealer Rosoboronexport.
Sberbank, VEB, and Rosoboronexport, incidentally, have also been sanctioned by the U.S. for their role in facilitating Russia’s invasion and occupation of Ukraine.
Since the Syria conflict began in 2011, the Syrian Central Bank has quietly increased its business ties to any number of questionable Russian financial institutions.
In 2012, WikiLeaks reportedly suppressed an email contained within a tranche of hacked Assad regime correspondence showing that Assad’s central bank had transferred €2 billion—$2.4 billion—to VTB, a Russian state-owned bank with retail and investment arms all over the world, including the United States, which added VTB to its list of sanctioned entities in 2014.