Phosphate imports by Greece from Syria could act as a lifeline to Syria. The country currently faces stringent international sanctions and is unable to fully benefit from its crude reserves. By importing the mineral, mainly used as a fertilizer, Greece is throwing an economic lifeline to the war-ravaged Syrian economy.
Conclusions drawn from an investigation by Politico.eu reveals that Greece is importing the mineral for agricultural purposes. Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad is attempting to return to EU markets. According to data from the European Union, imports from Syria have tripled from December 2017 to April 2018. Although Syria is still reeling under international sanctions and with its assets frozen, the amounts in questions are relatively small. Pre-war exports to the EU were significantly more.
Assad was able to resume the producing of phosphate thanks to Russia’s blistering air campaign. With the air pounding from the air, Assad’s ground forces were able to eliminate ISIS from the city. Palmira was back in Syrian hands in 2015. According to three sources familiar with the matter at hand, Syria was able to resume the export of the mineral thanks to Russian investors who resurrected the mines at Palmyra. In 2017, as a gesture of goodwill, Assad awarded these reserves to the Russians.
According to RBC, a Russian website, Assad’s concessions to develop the mines at Palmira went to Russia’s OAO Stroytransgaz, owned by Gennady Timchenko.
Syria data shows, in 2010, the export of phosphate was more than $200 million.
Interestingly, although Greece had opposed EU sanctions on the mineral in 2012 but by April 2018, it came around and imported €900,000 of the precious commodity due to increasing demand.
Although, one may presume that by importing phosphate from Syria Greece could potentially face penalties given that Syria is shackled by international sanctions; however neither Timchenko nor Stroytransgaz are subject to EU sanctions. From this one could conclude that transacting with the Russians should thus be legal, but there always lurks the risk that the U.S. could potentially target Assad’s European partners dealing with the mines.
According to a Washington-based attorney who has been contacted by Politico, “In this case, where phosphates in Syria coming from an entity sanctioned by the U.S. are going to a Greek company, the risk is that the Greek company could itself be designated as a sanctions target and be added to the U.S. sanctions list for dealing with the designated Russian company on a regular basis.”