Tartus, Syria (PortSEurope) July 9, 2020 – Port workers in Tartus have again complained about their Russian employer irregular and lower than the agreed payments and the unfair conditions under which it operates the infrastructure there, according to Syrian state-controlled media. Earlier, there were reports that STG Engineering wanted to reduce the number of employees in the port because there were many more people involved
than at facilities of a similar scale. This was also seen as interfering with the process of infrastructure modernization. The strategic Syrian port is managed by Russia’s STG Engineering, which is controlled by StroyTransGaz owned by Gennady Timchenko. He is a member of the inner circle of Russian President Vladimir Putin and under U.S. sanctions over his links to the Kremlin. The company has built gas processing plants in Syria and controls a phosphate mine and fertiliser production facility. Russia announced at the end of 2019 that it is going to invest $500 million over four years in the Syrian Mediterranean port of Tartus that it controls via a 49-year lease contract, signed in April 2019. This is by far the largest ever Russian investment in Syria where Moscow is looking to cement its influence. The agreement to lease Tartus was provisionally reached in 2018 and the use of the port gives Russia influence in the Eastern Mediterranean. It also allows the Russian navy to expand its technical support and logistics base, located on the northern edge of the port of Tartus. With Tartus port on Syria’s Eastern Mediterranean Sea coast, Russian naval vessels no longer need to return to Russian ports in the Black Sea via the Bosphorus Strait to collect supplies. Tartus is the Russian navy’s only Mediterranean port facility and Russia’s only military base outside the former Soviet Union. In the Syrian civil war, Russia sided with and saved the regime in Damascus, and the port is a benefit of this strategy. StroyTransGaz has been operating in Syria since 2000. To date, contracts have been implemented for the construction of the Arab Gas Pipeline (AGP) with a length of 319 kilometres and gas processing plant No. 1 (South Middle Area Gas Exploitation Project) – GPP–1. Russian officials discussed with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad the construction of motorways, airports and a key railway link between Tartus and Iraq that would allow goods to be shipped to and from the Gulf. The construction of a grain hub for the Middle East in the port is expected to start by the end of 2020. In recent years, Russia supplied Syria with grain. In May this year, General Director of the Syrian Grain Establishment, Youssef Qassem, said that Tartus had received ship carrying 26,000 tonnes of wheat from Russia under a contract from last year. A tender for a further 200,000 tonnes of wheat from Russia has been issued, he added. Russia sees a new grain hub in Tratus as an opportunity to increase grain sales in the Middle East, not just Syria. Tartus has also been a focus of military activity. In January this year, the Kremlin-owned TASS news agency reported that a joint Russian-Syrian military exercise on defending international maritime economic facilities was held in the port. It included over 2,000 servicemen, seven surface ships and boats. Russia and Iran are competing for influence in war-torn Syria. In October, Iran managed to lease the container terminal of Latakia port, also gaining a highly strategic foothold in the Eastern Mediterranean, 322 km by sea from the key Israeli port of Haifa. Russia also has a fortified air force base in Khmeimim, near the port of Latakia while Iran is working on the construction of a power plant in Latakia. State-owned Latakia is Syria’s main commercial port. Its harbour covers 135 hectares, has 32 wharves, 18 cranes and a channel depth of 14.5 metres; the warehouses cover 62.8 hectares and can handle some three million tonnes of cargo a year. It is rumoured that Russia was against the lease of Latakia port by Iran, but Tehran has provided the Syrian government with billions of dollars of credits and significant fuel supplies. Despite their cooperation, the rivalry between Tehran and Moscow is becoming visible in post-war Syria. The ports of Tartus and Latakia were managed by the Philippine’s International Container Terminal Services until 2011, when due to the civil war in Syria, they were classified as dangerous areas. Copyright (C) PortSEurope. All Rights Reserved. 2020.