Russia-Syria… from the era of the Soviet Union to the challenge of post-war Syria

By: Syrializm Analytics


The relations of Russia and Syria have remained similar to that sort of solid alliance that doesn’t permeate, whatever the circumstances or even the ruling groups in each of the two countries.

The Soviet Union was one of the first countries in the world to recognize Syria’s independence and establish diplomatic relations with it in the year 1944.

In October 1944 Daniel Solod, the first Soviet ambassador in Damascus, presented his diplomatic assignment to the then Syrian President Shukri Al Quwatli, and the Syrian diplomat, politician, writer, and poet Abd Al Muttalib Al Amin, the youngest son of the great Shiite authority in Syria, Mohsen Al Amin, presented his diplomatic assignment also, as the first ambassador of Syria to the Soviet Union, to Soviet leader back then Joseph Stalin.

Since that date, the Syrian-Russian relations have remained one of the basics of the prominent and important events in the contemporary history of Syria.

The course of the Syrian-Russian relations throughout its long history has been characterized by stability and permanence despite a large number of events and the speed of successive developments in the world, which makes it exceeds the limits of traditional friendship to become strategic in terms of the level of Comprehensive cooperation and coordination on various political and economic issues, locally and globally.

In 1956, Syrian President Shukri Al Quwatli visited Moscow, on the first visit of its kind to a Syrian president to the Soviet Union, requesting military and political support for Egypt within hours of the start of the tripartite (British / French / Israeli) aggression on October 29, 1956.

In a famous meeting with the Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev, Al Quwatli requested that the Red Army be sent to protect Egypt from Israel, France, and Britain.

On December 11, 1957, Syria and the Soviet Union signed an economic cooperation agreement, which includes 30 million dollars in Soviet economic aid to Syria and technical and industrial aid.

The Soviet Premier Nikolai Bulganin and his Syrian counterpart Khaled Al Azem signed the agreement.

Khalid Al Azim stated that an agreement with the Soviet Union would free Syria from dependence on foreign imperial powers.

In the 1950s, Khaled Al Azm was known as the “Red Millionaire” due to his bourgeois background and his support for rapprochement with the socialist camp.

On December 18, 1966, it was agreed with the Soviet Union to start construction work on the Euphrates Dam project, which for years remained one of the most important strategic projects implemented in Syria for development, which was considered the Syrian version of the High Dam project that Gamal Abdel Nasser established in Egypt on The Nile River and also with Soviet support.

From the mid-sixties to the beginning of the nineties of the last century, the number of large projects implemented with the assistance of the Soviet Union in Syria reached more than sixty projects, which helped ensure strategic pillars for Syria to maintain its economic security.

In addition to the subsidy that was provided in the late fifties, which amounted to 300 million dollars, to Syria, most of which evaporated as a result of the Syrian-Egyptian unit that lasted from 1958 to 1961, which greatly depleted the Syrian economy, and with the start of work on the Euphrates Dam project, under which Syria obtained a loan in the amount of  120 million rubles in 1966 (about $ 30 million), which is one of the most important hydroelectric projects that contributed to the development of the agricultural, irrigation, drinking water and electric power generation of large areas in Syria, in addition to providing many job opportunities.

Subsequent agreements also saw projects to build various factories, such as an iron and steel production plant, an aluminum rod and plate production plant, textile and sugar factories, canning factories, consoles, tires, and others.

According to the Technical Economic Cooperation Agreement signed in 1972, Moscow pledged a loan of $ 20 million, to finance oil projects and to settle the value of equipment, materials, and spare parts purchased from the Soviet Union.

The cooperation also led to the construction of rail lines with a length of more than 1500 km, and the provision of Syria with a network of railways, which linked the agricultural production areas and ports in Tartus and Latakia, and the Syrian government purchased diesel locomotives and special vehicles to transport travelers and freight vehicles from the Soviet Union.

A group of Soviet experts also contributed to setting up a center for training railway workers, so that the technical and mechanical service would be available locally.

The volume of trade exchange between the two countries continued to increase and grow at high rates, and the value of Syrian exports to Russia between 1989 and 1990 reached more than one billion 400 million sterling pounds, and the Syrian goods were of textile materials (cotton, silk, mixed fabrics, cotton yarn, curtains, towels, and underwear), cosmetics, shampoos and accessories of all kinds, and other raw and manufactured materials that invade the Russian and other independent and Eastern Europe markets.

The Russian Federation’s exports to Syria increased from $ 95 million to $ 138 million in 2002, meanwhile, Syria’s exports to the Russian Federation increased from 11 million dollars in 2000 to 16 million dollars in 2002.

In 2005, a Russian-Syrian agreement for industrial and technological cooperation was signed in the visit of Syrian President Bashar Al Assad to Moscow, during which huge agreements and large projects were concluded, exceeding 100 commercial and economic projects.

According to the figures of the Damascus Chamber of Commerce, the value of the accumulated Russian investments in Syria until 2011 is estimated at about $ 19 billion, concentrated in several sectors, including energy, tourism, and transportation, since 2005, when the two countries signed nearly 43 agreements and memoranda of understanding.

The agreements covered several fields, including defense, industry, trade, tourism, culture, and energy.

The Syrian debt to Russia was reduced in June 2005, and through an agreement to write off 73% of the outstanding debts amounting to $ 13.4 billion, or $ 9.8 billion, of Syria’s net debt to Moscow, in exchange for the Syrian President’s approval to convert Tartus’s base into a fixed military base for Russian ships that Russia fears to lose in the event that The fall of the regime, after the start of the war and the Russian military intervention in Syria in 2015.

Syria buys 10% of the total Russian arms exports, the Russian weapon constitutes 90% of the weapons owned by the Syrian army, and the value of military exports from Russia to Damascus in the period between 1950 and 1990 amounted to about $ 3.4 billion, which consumed its largest share over the years, especially a period The one that preceded and followed the Six-Day War in 1967 and the 1973 war and the Lebanon war period in the 1980s until Soviet support for Syria ceased during the period of Mikhail Gorbachev and post-Soviet period during the rule of Russian President Boris Yeltsin.

In addition, it cannot be forgotten the Soviet Union sending on the space rocket mission of Soyuz M3, to the Soviet space station Mir, the first Syrian astronaut with the Soviet group on that mission on 7/22/1987.

On the last visit of Syrian President Hafez Al Assad to the USSR, before the collapse, Assad insisted on Mikhail Gorbachev to request Syria to acquire the S300 missile system.

This request was at the forefront of Damascus’s priorities for strengthening its defense; however, Gorbachev didn’t have ears to listen.

This visit was a milestone in the history of relations between Moscow and Damascus, which then began to collapse, as was the case in the Soviet Union itself.

Before Gorbachev’s arrival, Soviet support remained strong for Syria, during the period of Yuri Andropov and Konstantin Chernenko, also before that, during the era of Leonid Brezhnev, who continued to deal with a greater understanding of Syrian demands, but he was postponing a decision on some of them, for strategic reasons related to the issue of international balance and confrontation with the Western bloc and the United States.

Nevertheless, during Gorbachev era, talk of developing Soviet military support to Syria was stopped, particularly the provision of Syria with the S300 missile defense system, and from the first minutes of his meeting with Hafez Al Assad, Gorbachev closed this issue.

In that meeting, Gorbachev began his conversation with the Syrian president by saying that Russia this year (1988) will celebrate the thousandth anniversary of converting to Christianity in a sign immediately taken by Assad who apparently realized that the leader of the Great Communist state wanted to inform him that the Kremlin began to deviate from Its communist/socialist ideology and that the Soviet Union began breathing western air.

The response of Assad was: Mr. Gorbachev, you know very well that Christianity originated from our land, meaning that our principles are not transferable.

Then, the talk about Syria’s acquisition of the S300 defense system was completely closed.

After that visit, Moscow’s arms exports to Damascus faltered, and it stopped altogether, especially after Boris Yeltsin and his team of colored pants came to power, as Alexander Rutskoy, Yeltsin’s deputy, whom Yeltsin removed from his position used to say describe Yeltsin’s team.

Rutskoy, who was a Soviet pilot captured by the “Mujahideen” in Afghanistan and tasted all kinds of torment, and after returning to Russia, he changed his lifestyle and became a glow in world luxuries.

At the beginning of the third millennium, Russia entered the era of Vladimir Putin, who restored the two-headed eagle to the Russian flag and began to reset and balance Russia all over again.

During his reign, life returned to Syrian-Russian cooperation, especially militarily, as Russian arms exports returned to Syria.

Here it comes the story of the Israeli warplanes flying over the palace of Syrian President Bashar Al Assad was remembered when Russian President Vladimir Putin announced that “Moscow will provide Damascus with the means and defense so that Israeli warplanes will not fly over the Syrian Presidential Palace again”.

Returning to the period of 2010, when the value of Syrian imports from Russia amounted to $ 1.1 billion, and Syrian exports amounted to $ 33 million, and a number of Russian companies entered into the energy field, as both TATNEFT oil exploration and production company start working in the eastern Syria region for exploration and oil extraction in addition to a company Soyuzneftegaz.

In recent years, Russia provided some loans and aid to Damascus, one of the most important of which was in February 2012, as Syria was granted a loan of $ 3.5 billion, and in 2017, two loans worth 600 and 250 million euros were offered for infrastructure repair, according to international reports.

In April 2018, Syrian President Bashar Al Assad ratified a 50-year contract under which the Stroytransgaz Logistic Company extracted phosphate ores from the huge eastern mines in Palmyra, central Syria, whose reserves are estimated at 1.8 billion tons, as Stroytransgaz Company has carried out various projects in the field of energy and infrastructure, especially in the central region of Syria since 2008.

On the other hand, the Syrian government announced in April 2019 that it leased Tartous port to the Russian government, and Tartous port is one of the largest ports in Syria, occupying an area of 3 million square meters.

As for the cultural and educational levels, Russia annually provides opportunities and scholarships for Syrian students to complete their university education and higher studies in Russian universities in various specialties, and the Russian Cultural Center in the Syrian capital, Damascus, continued to carry out various activities until the beginning of the war in Syria, in addition to the events of school inside the Russian embassy campus, for the children of the families of the embassy employees, a large number of children of Russian nationals in Syria, as is well known in Syria there is significant interaction at the level of families and mixed marriages between Syrians & Russians.

Under the current circumstances, where Syria suffers greatly from damage, poor infrastructure and services, and an almost complete collapse of the Syrian industrial and productive system, which today needs to return to Russia, perhaps in a manner similar to what the Soviet Union did in the past, from helping Syria to the advancement of new levels at various levels, where Russia has sufficient capabilities to support construction in Syria, and even the development of many basic facilities and services, and the biggest challenge remains, is the restoration of services and basic infrastructure of the country, and start work on exploration and extraction of oil and gas from the coasts of Syria, which has reserves estimated at millions, and Russian ability improve post-war Syria.

However, Russia faces five main challenges:

1- The war is still on, and therefore the war must be stopped and a political solution achieved, ending the devastating war in the country, and the return of many Syrians, most of whom will contribute to rebuilding the country.

2- The instability of exchange rates and the collapse of the Syrian currency, in addition to the problem of European and US sanctions, which threaten any company entering the field of work in Syria, so Russia any company that wants to do business and work in Syria needs to be free from this US and EU Sanctions threats.

3- The necessity of amending and updating many systems and laws in Syria to allow investments and freedom of movement of funds to and from the country, above that Russia must play a major role to win the hearts of the people in Syria.

4- The availability of will and real desire on the Russian side, especially the Russian senior businessmen, who will logically carry out by their companies, implementing various projects in Syria.

5- Regulating the ruling system in Syria in a way that serves the preservation of stability, which is the important factor for work, and ensuring enhanced security throughout Syria, so that various companies and their Staff can enter the country, work and move in it safely.

What has been initiated between Russia and Syria since the independence of Syria in the mid-1940s, is a basis for continuing and building on it to ensure Russia’s supreme interests, because the question of the stability and strength of Syria is a sovereign issue for Russia, as this country falls into the arms of terrorism and Western powers It would mean that Russia’s influence in the Middle East and perhaps the world will disappear forever.

With an important supporter like China, for example, with all its industrial and productive capabilities, both countries will help restoring Syria, stronger than it was in a very short time, and this is a real nightmare for many Western powers, which means that it will defeat and vanquish the dream of complete control over the Middle East.