Trade

Greece throws lifeline to Assad by buying phosphates

Greece is throwing a slender economic lifeline to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad by reviving phosphate imports from mines near the ancient city of Palmyra.

Sales of the mineral — mainly used as a fertilizer — are increasingly important to Assad because international sanctions against the war-shattered nations crude oil are restricting his access to hard currency. From 2009 to 2011, Syria supplied almost a fifth of EU imports of phosphate, but those sales collapsed during the war.

Official EU import data shows that phosphate shipments to Europe — heading almost exclusively to Greece — are resuming and more than tripled between December 2017 to April 2018. The volumes remain small compared to the pre-war heyday, but Syria is making a clear push to return to the EU market and its giant farm sector.

Syrian data show that total phosphate exports were more than $200 million in 2010.

Three people either working in the phosphate industry or involved with trading the commodity said Syria is able to export again because Russian investors have resurrected the Palmyra mines, which Islamic State militia captured in 2015. Assad awarded these reserves to the Russians last year after Moscow helped him turn the tide against ISIS.

Trade data show that EU phosphate imports from Syria are nowhere near their pre-war levels, but are increasing fast.

The concession to develop phosphate went to Russias OAO Stroytransgaz, owned by Gennady Timchenko, according to the Russian website RBC and a market observer, who spoke on condition of anonymity. Stroytransgaz and Timchenko were both placed on the U.S. sanctions list in 2014 after the invasion of Crimea.

Neither Timchenko nor Stroytransgaz are sanctioned by the EU. This means it is legal for Europeans to buy rock from the Russians, although lawyers point out there is a risk that the U.S. could target European partners for dealing with the mine.

Stroytransgaz declined to comment on its concession in Syria, on its trading partners or whether it was taking any precautionary measures to comply with U.S. sanctions.

One market observer with knowledge of the Russian investment said that the shipments are heading to Greece from the port of Tartus, home port of Russias Mediterranean fleet. “Availability is about 60,000 tons for export per month,” he said. He declined to be named due to his own commercial interests in the market.

Greeces gain

Before the war, Greece was a big importer of Syrian phosphates.

Diplomats recall that Greece defended that economic interest in 2012, when it was the main opponent to EU sanctions on Syrian phosphates during debates in Brussels.

Greeces ties to Moscow also run deep, and Athens was one of the most vocal proponents of a softer line against Russian President Vladimir Putin in response to the Ukraine conflict of 2014.

“In discussions around Russias role in Syria, there is a small but vocal bloc of member states, who, for most likely national interests, have vetoed more robust sanctions against Russia,” said Abdy Yeganeh, a security expert at the Independent Diplomat, a nonprofit consultancy that advises the Syrian opposition. “This has been a missed opportunity by the EU and its policy on Syria.”

One former senior EU diplomat who was present in the 2012 Syria sanctions discussions said Athens fought off pressure from Britain and France to avoid any form of restrictions on phosphate.

One of the attractions of Syria to Europe is that it has some of the cleanest phosphate in the world.

“Its always been clear that they are doing it for their own national interests,” the former diplomat said.

The official said Greeces position was made clear during discussions inside the Mashreq/Maghreb Working Party as well as the Political and Security Committee inside the Council of the European Union.

Alex Yennimatas, a spokesperson for the Greek foreign ministry, rejected that account of the sanctions debate of 2012. “The foreign ministry has never opposed such sanctions” on Syrian phosphates, he said. He declined, however, to address discussions inside the Mashreq/Maghreb Working Party and the Political and Security Committee.

Ramping up the rock

Trade data show that EU phosphate imports from Syria are nowhere near their pre-war levels, but are increasing fast.

In December 2017, Greece was importing 5,000 tons. By April 2018, this surged to 16,900 tons worth nearly €900,000, just as Assad, backed by Russian fighter jets, began retaking control over southwest Syria and other regions that were once home to ISIS fighters. The data do not show where exactly in Syria the phosphate rock comes from.

Some 16,900 tons a month would put Aprils imports from Syria at about one-sixth of the level of peak business to the rest of the world in 2010 and 2011. Over the full years of 2010 and 2011, Syria was supplying about 1.2 million tons out of a total EU demand of almost 7 million tons.

Two market experts, who spoke on condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of the trade, said the current volumes are just a fraction of the resources total capacity, with the mines having produced roughly 3.8 million tons of phosphate rock before ISIS captured them.

To place this in the broader international context, the lions share of EU imports — some 30 percent to 35 percent — originates in Morocco. Another 30 percent come from Russia.

One of the attractions of Syria to Europe is that it has some of the cleanest phosphate in the world — largely free from cadmium, a toxic, carcinogenic metal. This is important because Brussels is in the middle of a push to reduce the permissible level of cadmium in the EUs phosphate imports.

If the reforms go through, European farmers will be pushed to cut ties with countries such as Senegal, Algeria and Morocco and switch to imports from locations like Russia and Syria, where the phosphate has far lower natural cadmium levels.

It is unclear who imports the phosphate rock into Greece from Syria.

Importing phosphate from Syria does not break the EUs sanctions against Russian individuals and entities, but such commercial ties do come with risks because Washington is targeting Timchenko and Stroytransgaz.

“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,” said Hal Eren, a Washington-based attorney specializing in economic sanctions.

“If you deal with a blacklisted company, you yourself can become blacklisted, and you would not be able to do business with the U.S., and no bank in the world would deal with you for fear of them getting involved with dealing with sanctioned entities. In other words, as a practical matter, no one, especially banks, wants to touch any entity that appears on the U.S. sanctions list even if what they are doing is perfectly legal.”

Opaque imports

It is unclear who imports the phosphate rock into Greece from Syria, though several traders and industry executives who spoke on condition of anonymity said the only major importers of phosphate rock in Greece were located close to the city of Kavala in the north of the country.

POLITICO contacted the three most prominent companies involved in the sector: Phosphoric Fertilizers Industry and Chemical Ltd (PFIC), Hellagrolip SA and New Karvali Fertilisers SA, but was unable to determine the buyer of the Syrian rock. All three companies broke out of the Greek fertilizers and chemicals company ELFE SA in 2015, court documents show.

Emmanouela Genetzaki, legal counsel for Hellagrolip, said that “Hellagrolip does not purchase phosphate rock from the sanctioned Russian entities like OAO Stroytransgaz.”

“Since the beginning of the war, the basic phosphate rock markets for Hellagrolip was Morocco and Algeria,” she said.

Officials at PFIC and New Karvali Fertilisers did not respond to several requests for comment.

Read this next: Belgian frites fry in the heat

Related Articles

67 Comments

  1. I have recently started a website, the information you offer on this site has helped me tremendously. Thank you for all of your time & work. “There is a time for many words, and there is also a time for sleep.” by Homer.

  2. Hello! Do you know if they make any plugins to assist with SEO? I’m trying to get my blog to rank for some targeted keywords but I’m not seeing very good gains. If you know of any please share. Appreciate it!

  3. Have you ever thought about publishing an ebook or guest authoring on other websites? I have a blog based on the same information you discuss and would love to have you share some stories/information. I know my viewers would enjoy your work. If you’re even remotely interested, feel free to shoot me an e mail.

  4. Hey there! Someone in my Myspace group shared this website with us so I came to check it out. I’m definitely loving the information. I’m book-marking and will be tweeting this to my followers! Wonderful blog and terrific design.

  5. I don’t even know the way I stopped up right here, but I believed this submit was great. I don’t understand who you are however certainly you’re going to a well-known blogger for those who aren’t already 😉 Cheers!

  6. This design is wicked! You certainly know how to keep a reader entertained. Between your wit and your videos, I was almost moved to start my own blog (well, almost…HaHa!) Fantastic job. I really loved what you had to say, and more than that, how you presented it. Too cool!

  7. Hi, Neat post. There’s a problem with your site in internet explorer, would test this… IE still is the market leader and a huge portion of people will miss your great writing because of this problem.

  8. Hey very cool web site!! Man .. Excellent .. Amazing .. I will bookmark your site and take the feeds also…I am happy to find a lot of useful info here in the post, we need work out more strategies in this regard, thanks for sharing. . . . . .

  9. Hmm it appears like your website ate my first comment (it was super long) so I guess I’ll just sum it up what I had written and say, I’m thoroughly enjoying your blog. I too am an aspiring blog writer but I’m still new to the whole thing. Do you have any tips and hints for first-time blog writers? I’d genuinely appreciate it.

  10. What i don’t understood is actually how you are not actually much more well-liked than you might be now. You’re so intelligent. You realize thus considerably relating to this subject, made me personally consider it from so many varied angles. Its like women and men aren’t fascinated unless it is one thing to accomplish with Lady gaga! Your own stuffs outstanding. Always maintain it up!

  11. Woah! I’m really enjoying the template/theme of this site. It’s simple, yet effective. A lot of times it’s tough to get that “perfect balance” between usability and visual appearance. I must say you have done a amazing job with this. In addition, the blog loads super fast for me on Opera. Excellent Blog!

  12. Today, I went to the beach with my kids. I found a sea shell and gave it to my 4 year old daughter and said “You can hear the ocean if you put this to your ear.” She placed the shell to her ear and screamed. There was a hermit crab inside and it pinched her ear. She never wants to go back! LoL I know this is totally off topic but I had to tell someone!

  13. Hey, you used to write fantastic, but the last few posts have been kinda boring?K I miss your tremendous writings. Past several posts are just a little out of track! come on!

  14. When I originally commented I clicked the “Notify me when new comments are added” checkbox and now each time a comment is added I get several emails with the same comment. Is there any way you can remove me from that service? Cheers!

  15. I was very pleased to search out this internet-site.I needed to thanks for your time for this wonderful learn!! I undoubtedly enjoying every little little bit of it and I have you bookmarked to check out new stuff you blog post.

  16. Thank you for another excellent post. Where else could anyone get that kind of information in such an ideal way of writing? I have a presentation next week, and I’m on the look for such info.

  17. of course like your web site but you need to test the spelling on several of your posts. Many of them are rife with spelling problems and I in finding it very troublesome to inform the reality then again I will surely come back again.

  18. I’m really impressed along with your writing abilities as well as with the layout in your blog. Is this a paid subject matter or did you modify it yourself? Anyway stay up the excellent high quality writing, it’s uncommon to look a nice blog like this one these days..

  19. Excellent site you have here but I was wanting to know if you knew of any user discussion forums that cover the same topics discussed here? I’d really like to be a part of online community where I can get opinions from other experienced people that share the same interest. If you have any suggestions, please let me know. Cheers!

  20. When I initially commented I clicked the “Notify me when new comments are added” checkbox and now each time a comment is added I get four emails with the same comment. Is there any way you can remove people from that service? Thanks a lot!

  21. The core of your writing while sounding agreeable originally, did not really work very well with me after some time. Somewhere within the paragraphs you actually were able to make me a believer unfortunately only for a short while. I nevertheless have a problem with your jumps in logic and you might do nicely to fill in those breaks. In the event you can accomplish that, I will definitely end up being amazed.

  22. I’ve been browsing on-line greater than three hours as of late, but I by no means discovered any interesting article like yours. It is beautiful worth sufficient for me. In my opinion, if all web owners and bloggers made excellent content material as you probably did, the web might be a lot more helpful than ever before.

  23. hello there and thank you for your information – I have definitely picked up something new from right here. I did however expertise some technical issues using this website, since I experienced to reload the web site many times previous to I could get it to load correctly. I had been wondering if your hosting is OK? Not that I’m complaining, but slow loading instances times will very frequently affect your placement in google and can damage your quality score if ads and marketing with Adwords. Well I’m adding this RSS to my email and could look out for much more of your respective intriguing content. Ensure that you update this again soon..

  24. Hi, I think your site might be having browser compatibility issues. When I look at your website in Safari, it looks fine but when opening in Internet Explorer, it has some overlapping. I just wanted to give you a quick heads up! Other then that, fantastic blog!

  25. I’m impressed, I must say. Really rarely do I encounter a weblog that’s each educative and entertaining, and let me let you know, you could have hit the nail on the head. Your concept is excellent; the difficulty is something that not sufficient individuals are speaking intelligently about. I’m very happy that I stumbled across this in my search for one thing regarding this.

  26. I don’t even know how I ended up here, but I thought this post was good. I don’t know who you are but definitely you’re going to a famous blogger if you aren’t already 😉 Cheers!

  27. I’m not that much of a online reader to be honest but your blogs really nice, keep it up! I’ll go ahead and bookmark your site to come back in the future. Many thanks

  28. Hello! I know this is kinda off topic nevertheless I’d figured I’d ask. Would you be interested in trading links or maybe guest authoring a blog article or vice-versa? My blog addresses a lot of the same topics as yours and I feel we could greatly benefit from each other. If you’re interested feel free to send me an email. I look forward to hearing from you! Terrific blog by the way!

  29. What’s Taking place i’m new to this, I stumbled upon this I’ve discovered It positively helpful and it has aided me out loads. I am hoping to give a contribution & help different customers like its helped me. Great job.

  30. 743810 890615The Twitter application page will open. This is great if youve got a couple of thousand followers, but as you get far more and far more the usefulness of this tool is downgraded. 588993

  31. What’s up to every body, it’s my first visit of this web site; this web site contains amazing and in fact fine information for visitors.

  32. I do not even know how I stopped up here, but I thought this publish was
    once great. I do not know who you might be but certainly you are going to a well-known blogger when you aren’t already.
    Cheers!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

Trade

Greece throws lifeline to Assad by buying phosphates

Greece is throwing a slender economic lifeline to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad by reviving phosphate imports from mines near the ancient city of Palmyra.

Sales of the mineral — mainly used as a fertilizer — are increasingly important to Assad because international sanctions against the war-shattered nations crude oil are restricting his access to hard currency. From 2009 to 2011, Syria supplied almost a fifth of EU imports of phosphate, but those sales collapsed during the war.

Official EU import data shows that phosphate shipments to Europe — heading almost exclusively to Greece — are resuming and more than tripled between December 2017 to April 2018. The volumes remain small compared to the pre-war heyday, but Syria is making a clear push to return to the EU market and its giant farm sector.

Syrian data show that total phosphate exports were more than $200 million in 2010.

Three people either working in the phosphate industry or involved with trading the commodity said Syria is able to export again because Russian investors have resurrected the Palmyra mines, which Islamic State militia captured in 2015. Assad awarded these reserves to the Russians last year after Moscow helped him turn the tide against ISIS.

Trade data show that EU phosphate imports from Syria are nowhere near their pre-war levels, but are increasing fast.

The concession to develop phosphate went to Russias OAO Stroytransgaz, owned by Gennady Timchenko, according to the Russian website RBC and a market observer, who spoke on condition of anonymity. Stroytransgaz and Timchenko were both placed on the U.S. sanctions list in 2014 after the invasion of Crimea.

Neither Timchenko nor Stroytransgaz are sanctioned by the EU. This means it is legal for Europeans to buy rock from the Russians, although lawyers point out there is a risk that the U.S. could target European partners for dealing with the mine.

Stroytransgaz declined to comment on its concession in Syria, on its trading partners or whether it was taking any precautionary measures to comply with U.S. sanctions.

One market observer with knowledge of the Russian investment said that the shipments are heading to Greece from the port of Tartus, home port of Russias Mediterranean fleet. “Availability is about 60,000 tons for export per month,” he said. He declined to be named due to his own commercial interests in the market.Read More »

Related Articles

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

Back to top button