Senior Syrian officials pleaded with Russia Friday for financial loans and supplies of oil products, a sign that the global fallout from President Bashar Assad’s crackdown on a rebellion is squeezing his regime.
Syria’s Deputy Prime Minister Qadri Jamil, who led a delegation of several Cabinet ministers on a trip to Moscow, told reporters that they have asked for a Russian loan to replenish Syria’s hard currency reserves, which have been depleted by an international embargo on Syrian exports.
He said Damascus also wants to get diesel oil and other oil products from Russia in exchange for crude supplies. Syria produces approximately 200,000 barrels of crude oil per day.
“We are ready to deliver all of our oil and receive what we need in gasoline and diesel,” Jamil told journalists Friday.
Jamil refused to mention specific figures, but said that the deals could be finalized within weeks. There was no immediate comment from the Russian government.
Syria is believed to be burning quickly through the $17 billion in foreign reserves that the government was believed to have at the start of Assad’s crackdown on a popular uprising that erupted in March 2011. The conflict has turned into a civil war, and rights activists estimate more than 19,000 people have been killed over the past 17 months.
The Syrian regime has blamed US and European Union sanctions for the shortages that have left Syrians across the country standing in long lines to pay inflated prices for cooking gas, fuel, sugar and other staples. But in May, the US ambassador to Damascus denied that the international sanctions were to blame for the shortages.
“Our sanctions purposefully do not target oil and diesel imports, because we know that the Syrian people need both for their day-to-day lives,” Ambassador Robert Ford wrote on the embassy’s Facebook page. Ford said the government is using fuel imports for its tanks. He was forced to leave Syria in February, citing security concerns.
Russia has protected Syria from UN sanctions and continued to supply it with weapons throughout the conflict. The Kremlin, backed by fellow veto-wielding UN Security Council member China, has blocked any plans that would call on Assad to step down.
On Friday, a different UN body, the General Assembly, overwhelmingly denounced the Assad regime’s crackdown on civilians and called for Syria’s chemical and biological weapons stockpiles to be secured.