Syria’s opposition has condemned the signing last week of Syria’s first-ever offshore oil exploration deal, with Russia, claiming oil blocks are being swapped for weapons to attack rebel forces.
Syria signed the agreement last week with Russian oil and gas company SoyuzNefteGaz for joint oil exploration off the Mediterranean coast, in Syria’s part of the prolific Levant Basin, according to Syrian, Russian and Iranian state news agencies.
“The Coalition condemns the signing of this deal, which aims to swap the riches of our homeland for Russian weapons destined to kill the Syrian people,” the Syrian National Council said in a statement.
SoyuzNefteGaz—created in 2000 with an eye on joint ventures in the Middle East and Africa—will reportedly finance the $90 million project in Syria. If test drilling confirms commercial scale reserves of oil and gas, SoyuzNefteGaz will build the necessary infrastructure for development and extraction.
The contract is for oil exploration and production in Block 2 of Syria's territorial water, which stretches from the shore of the coastal city of Tartous to the city of Banyas and covers 2,190 square kilometers.
The contract will enter into effect immediately despite US and European sanctions against Syria.
The opposition remains suspicious of the deal, which will be fully funded by Russia, and which they claim is the Assad regimes illegal signing of a contract to drill for oil and gas in Syrian waters.
“Such a dishonorable deal is intended to give away Syria’s natural resources in exchange for Russian weapons to be used to kill Syrians,” Khalid Saleh, Syrian Coalition Media Office President, said in a press release.
Saleh said the coalition viewed the deal as “completely illegal as the Assad regime does not represent the Syrian people. Only the Syrian people can give legitimacy to a decision regarding Syria’s resources and future.”
A combination of conflict and international sanctions has reduced Syria’s oil production by 90%, while gas production has dropped from 30 million cubic meters per day to 16.7 million cubic meters per day. Much of the country’s pipeline infrastructure has also been damaged.
SoyuzNefteGaz is headed by former Russian Energy Minister Yury Shafranik, and Russia now holds the keys to power brokerage in Syria since the US opted out of air strikes and signed on to a Russian plan for a resolution of the conflict.
Syria is one of Russia’s last Middle East strongholds and serves as a base for the Russian Navy.
Israel has already made significant discoveries in the Levant Basin, while Lebanon is preparing for exploration and its first offshore auction but political crisis is holding up key legislation that would make this possible.
By. Charles Kennedy of Oilprice.com