Oil-hungry China and India could undermine efforts by the European Union to punish Syria for its deadly response to activists trying to overthrow the government.
The EU on Friday banned oil imports from Syria, shutting down the vast majority of that country’s export market. The taps won’t be turned off, however, until the middle of November. Even if this market closes, Syria will have other options that could leave the repressive government relatively unscathed.
China, as well as India, could absorb the roughly 150,000 barrels of oil a day that Syria currently directs toward the EU. Oil exports make up about 25 per cent of Syria’s revenue, and at today’s oil prices, the shipments are worth about $4-billion a year, according to Ayham Kamel, an expert on the Middle East at Eurasia Group, a global research firm.
“Financially, it won’t have a big impact [on Syria],” he said of the sanctions. “They can sell the oil elsewhere.”
China and India are two countries likely to fill the void, Mr. Kamel said. Roughly three-quarters of Syria’s oil exports are heavy, limiting the number of refineries that can process it into useable products such as gasoline and jet fuel. However, China and India in particular, have been building facilities that can deal with thicker crude as they desperately try to meet growing demand.
While Syria, which produces about 400,000 barrels of oil a day, may have to accept a lower price for the exported crude, these prospective buyers could put a serious dent in the effectiveness of the EU’s ban.
The sanctions, which were encouraged by the United States, a country that does not import Syrian oil, come after more than five months of violence in Syria. Protesters want to remove Syrian president Bashar al-Assad and his government, and the clashes have turned deadly. The United Nations estimates that about 2,200 people have been killed since March. The regime is in no imminent danger of collapse, but the protesters are determined, leading to concerns violence could escalate.
On Sunday, a state-run newspaper in Syria criticized Europe’s move.
“Instead of playing an effective and positive political role, Europe shows its pent-up desire to evoke the colonial past,” Al-Thawra newspaper said.
Emadeddin al Rashid, of Syria’s opposition National Salvation Congress, believes the EU’s ban will hit Syria’s ruling family, but that it does not mean the Assads will lose control over the country.
“The sanctions will gain popular approval because the revenues from oil do not go to the state coffers but are at the disposal of the Assad family,” he said, according to Reuters. “It will no doubt hurt, and is direct pressure on the regime, as it affects their personal finances.
“It will however be an excuse to supply Syria with Iraqi and Iranian oil as a form of economic aid to prop up the regime. Oil sanctions are among several issues that put pressure on the regime . . . but alone it will not tip the balance against the regime as Syria has had long experience in dealing with sanctions.”
Without revenue from exporting crude to the EU’s 27 states, Syria will likely burn through foreign reserves far more quickly. It had $17-billion in reserves at the start of the uprising. Still, some analysts believe Syria is getting financial assistance from Iran, which would cushion the EU blow.
With reports from Reuters and The Associated Press
Red Cross president meets Syrian leaders
Syria saw a wave of violence and arrests as the head of the International Committee of the Red Cross visited Damascus to address issues including caring for the wounded and access to detainees during the government’s crackdown on a 5-month-old uprising. Activists reported military operations and sweeping arrests in flash-point areas including Idlib near the Turkish border and the eastern city of Deir el-Zour. The state-run news agency reported that nine people were killed in central Syria in an ambush by armed groups in central Syria. The report, which could not be confirmed, said the victims were six soldiers and three civilians. Syria has banned foreign journalists and restricted local media, making it difficult to independently verify reports. The regime blames the unrest on thugs and armed gangs and claims security forces are the real victims. ICRC President Jakob Kellenberger met with Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem on Sunday and was scheduled to meet President Bashar al-Assad on Monday.
Source: The Associated Press