(Photo credit: Mohamed Abdel Hamid/AA)
Syria has significantly increased its wheat imports from the Black Sea port of Sevastopol, in the Russia-annexed Ukrainian peninsula of Crimea, financial data provider Refinitiv reported on 19 December.
According to Refinitiv, wheat received by Syria from Crimea increased by around 17 times this year, standing at just over 500,000 tons and making up almost one-third of the Levantine country’s total imports.
As US sanctions imposed on both Russia and Syria have made bilateral trade and cooperation between the two counties much more difficult, Moscow and Damascus have had to avoid mainstream shipping routes, and have resorted to the use of their own vessels, including three particular Syrian ships targeted under the Caesar Act.
The Caesar Act, which was passed in 2019 by Congress, targets Syria with harsh sanctions and prohibits states, companies, and individuals from doing business with the Damascus government. As a result of the ongoing war in Ukraine, Russia has also been under heavy western sanctions.
According to Kiev’s embassy in Beirut, and allegedly based on information from Ukrainian silo owners and satellite data, the wheat making its way from Crimea to Syria has been stolen by Russia from the areas it ‘occupies.’
As Russian export of wheat to Syria has been ongoing, this is not the first time Ukraine accuses Russia of stealing its grain throughout the conflict, an allegation referred to as “fake” by Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov in May.
In late July, a Syrian ship – the Laodicea – docked in the Lebanese port city of Tripoli carrying what the Ukrainian embassy in Beirut claimed were several thousand tons of flour and barley stolen from Ukrainian stores by Russia.
Despite this, Kiev’s embassy failed to provide evidence that the grain was stolen, and the ship was eventually released in early August.
In 2014, Moscow annexed the Crimean Peninsula after a public referendum voted overwhelmingly in favor of joining Russia. Two years later, Damascus formally recognized Crimea as Russian territory, and in June of this year, it formally recognized the two Donbass Republics in solidarity with the Russian operation in Ukraine.
As both countries struggle to combat the ramifications of western sanctions, Syria and Russia are expected to continue enhancing bilateral trade, energy cooperation, and economic ties.