Legal Briefing- May 2020

Commerce

  • President Bashar Al-Assad met with the government’s COVID-19 task force. While the health challenges were on the agenda, discussions also touched on the economic side effects. President Al-Assad noted that there are some monopolists who raised prices exorbitantly. The President proposed opening marketplaces for farmers to sell their produce directly to consumers to avoid the need for middlemen whose presence in supply chains causes prices to increase. He suggested that public sector establishments such as the state-owned corporation ‘Syrian Trading’ could become the main trader in the market in this respect and help bring prices down for consumers, whose purchasing power has been in constant decline. The President said that the government must accordingly bolster the role of the public sector through legislative and regulatory reform to make it more flexible and capable of such market interventions in order to reduce prices for consumers. He also touched on the need to push forward with reforms concerning consumer protection. In fact, the speculation that the current Consumer Protection Law 14/2015 would be amended has been ongoing for some time. The five-year old Law is already deemed unfit for purpose. The objective of such legislative reform would be to impose stricter penalties against market manipulators and monopolists who violate the Law since the provisions currently in effect are not having the desired outcome despite the presence of the Competition Law 7/2008 as well. President Al-Assad also warned that the current low level of COVID-19 infections did not mean that Syria had escaped danger but rather, these figures could suddenly spike in time and cause a real catastrophe that exceeds the country’s health and logistical abilities.
  • Merchants have started to complain about the presence of popular markets. On February 10, 2020, the Economic Committee affiliated to the Council of Ministers recommended the establishment of popular markets where farmers and producers can sell their goods directly to consumers. The objective of popular markets is to keep the prices of basic goods low for consumers by limiting the supply chain to producers and consumers, thereby cutting out distributors, wholesalers and retailers who add on their profits to the prices of the goods in question.
  • There have been increasing reports that merchants whose products are subject to price controls or administrative pricing are deliberately selling them at higher than permitted prices and providing consumers with false invoices, which is a violation of the Consumer Protection Law.
  • Directorates of the Ministry of Consumer Protection and Internal Trade throughout Syria’s provinces have been ordering the closure of commercial establishments found to be engaged in price gouging and monopolistic practices in contravention of the Consumer Protection Law.
  • The Council of Ministers agreed to take urgent steps to market public sector products at cost, which is less than market prices by 15%, and to provide tax and fee exemptions to agricultural industrial projects.
  • The Council of Ministers authorized the Ministry of Internal Trade and Consumer Protection and the Ministry of Economy and Foreign Trade to conduct a weekly review of foodstuffs and agricultural produce permitted for exportation according to the demands of the local markets. The Council of Ministers also tasked the Ministry of Economy and Foreign Trade and the Ministry of Finance with preparing draft legislation to exempt Syrian exports from fees and expenses for a period of one year.
  • The combination of hyperinflation and economic sanctions has forced manufacturers and merchants out of business due to their inability to secure imports of goods, thereby allowing monopolists to flourish with limited market competition while manipulating consumer prices further.
  • The Council of Ministers approved a measure to permit the private sector to import fertilizers.
  • The importation of Iraqi goods into the Syrian markets through the Abou Kamal border crossing between the two countries resumed following earlier disruptions caused by the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • The Minister of Finance explained that the recent smuggling of foodstuffs is not an attempt to evade customs duties since exemptions already exist under the Greater Arab Free Trade Agreement. Rather, smugglers are taking advantage of larger profits in neighboring countries.
  • The Damascus International Fair, which is usually held in the summer season, will be postponed this year in line with the government’s COVID-19 response plan.
  • President Bashar Al-Assad issued Decree 122/2020 discharging Atef Al-Naddaf as Minister of Internal Trade and Consumer Protection and subsequently issued Decree 123/2020 appointing Talal Al-Barazi, the now former Governor of Homs, in his place. In a final act before taking over as Minister of Internal Trade and Consumer Protection, the now former Governor of Homs Talal Al-Barazi inspected the quarantine center in Homs following complaints from Syrian expatriates arriving from Oman and Sudan of dire conditions.

Industry

  • Syrian industry suffers from several problems that weaken the ability of local manufacturers to compete with imported goods, the main ones of which are the high prices of electricity, diesel, fuel and gas, the difficulty of securing raw materials, and shortages in the labor markets.
  • The Council of Ministers approved the list of 67 goods to be produced locally as part of the Import Substitution Program and further mandated the Ministry of Economy and Foreign Trade to accelerate the granting of import licenses to manufacturers for the necessary raw materials.

Telecommunications

  • Syriatel Chairman Rami Makhlouf released another video alleging measures being taken against the mobile network operator. While news coverage of his statements is focusing mainly on the potential political dimensions, the legal issues center around Syriatel’s license agreement. In 2014, Syriatel negotiated a 20-year license agreement with the Telecommunications Regulatory Authority (TRA) to continue providing mobile network services after its build-operate-transfer arrangement expired. The TRA signed a similar contract with the other operator MTN Syria. Syriatel’s license agreement provided for a 50%-50% profit-sharing model with the Syrian government overseen by the TRA. The profits payable to the government are in addition to the corporation tax payable to the General Commission for Taxes and Fees. The 20-year license agreements concluded between the TRA and Syriatel and MTN Syria in 2014 provided for the following profit-sharing formula: 50% owed to the state in 2015, 30% owed in 2016 and 2017, and finally, 20% from 2018 onwards until the expiration of the licenses. Following an audit, the TRA recently demanded that Syriatel settle between SYP 125 billion and SYP 130 billion in unpaid profits earmarked for the government under the license agreement. MTN Syria was also held accountable for unpaid profits of approximately SYP 100 billion. Both Syriatel and MTN Syria became listed companies on the Damascus Securities Exchange in 2019, thereby obliging them to meet higher thresholds for disclosing their corporate and financial documents.
  • In his third public statement, Syriatel Chairman Rami Makhlouf claimed that the public authorities, including the Syrian Telecommunications Corporation and the Telecommunications Regulatory Authority, are demanding a high revenue-sharing arrangement and his resignation. He reported that his brother, who served as his deputy, had already resigned from the company. Rami Makhlouf’s son was subsequently appointed in his place. Moreover, he alleged that Syriatel was required to sign an exclusive procurement contract with a service provider though the exclusivity condition was eventually dropped. While taking aim at the new business elite, he warned that the demands made of Syriatel will increase the risks of its corporate collapse and given its size as potentially the leading private sector company in the country, such an event would have profound consequences on the Syrian economy. He also stated in the video that he was informed by the Syrian Telecommunications Corporation that if Syriatel did not comply with the aforementioned requirements, the telecommunications giant risked having its license revoked.
  • The Minister of Finance imposed a provisional attachment order against the movable and immovable assets of Syriatel Chairman Rami Makhlouf, his wife and children, effectively freezing their assets, following Syriatel’s dispute with the Telecommunications Regulatory Authority. The provisional attachment order is provided for in Directive 1236/O issued by the Minister of Finance on May 19th. The Damascus Securities Exchange reportedly then imposed the attachment on the shares of listed companies owned by Rami Makhlouf, which include most of the banks operating in the country. A provisional attachment order issued by the Minister of Finance differs from a judicial attachment order imposed by the courts in that the latter can only be pursued when the dispute is filed with the courts whereas the Minister of Finance can impose one for suspicion of wrongdoing. Following a provisional attachment order issued by the Minister of Finance, the Central Supervisory and Inspectorial Agency, an executive branch authority, conducts an investigation into the concerned individual’s activities. During this time, the individual’s assets remain in their name. After the Central Supervisory and Inspectorial Agency issues its findings and provided there is a case to answer, the state has eight days to register a lawsuit against the concerned individual. At that point, it is for the courts to decide the fate of the defendant’s assets. In addition to the provisional attachment order, Rami Makhlouf has also been barred from contracting with the state for a period of five years in accordance with public procurement regulations.
  • Syriatel Chairman Rami Makhlouf announced that he intends to transfer ownership of all shares he owns in local banks and insurance companies to Ramak for Development and Humanitarian Projects Co., a corporation he set up and whose declared objective is charitable purposes. It is however unlikely that he can do so at present given the imposition of a provisional attachment order against his assets and those of his wife and children by the Ministry of Finance pending further investigations by the Central Supervisory and Inspectorial Agency.
  • The Council of State Administrative Court ordered a provisional travel ban against Syriatel Chairman Rami Makhlouf pending the resolution of the dispute involving Syriatel and the Telecommunications Regulatory Authority (TRA) or the settlement of the payment claimed by the TRA. The Council of State Administrative Court hears cases when a state entity like a regulator, such as the TRA, is a party to the lawsuit and is separate from the ordinary civil courts. The lawsuit was filed under Case No. 2441/2020 and the ban contained in Judgment No. 2/M/85-2020. As is standard practice, the claimants were listed as the Minister of Communications and Technology and the Director of the TRA acting on behalf of their posts and the defendant was listed as Rami Makhlouf in his personal capacity and as the Chairman of Syriatel. The travel ban, which was described as an urgent request by the claimants, was issued pursuant to Article 38 of the Constitution granting the courts, the Public Prosecutor or the laws of public health and safety to provide for such restrictions on the movement of persons.
  • The Damascus Securities Exchange announced a reduction of the share reference price of Syriatel from SYP 7,684 to SYP 7,531 due to a lack of trading activity in recent sessions. Following on from that measure, the Syrian Commission on Financial Markets and Securities, the capital markets regulator, moved to suspend stock trading with respect to Syriatel’s shares until further notice.
  • Syriatel terminated its services contracts with two offshore companies whom it paid SYP 10.83 billion in fees in 2019.
  • MTN Syria disclosed that three of its directors, including the Chairman of the Board of Directors, tendered their resignations. The Chairman not only resigned his post but also his membership on the Board.
  • TeleInvest Ltd., one of the main shareholders in MTN Syria, informed the Telecommunications Regulatory Authority (TRA) of its willingness to pay the due amounts of MTN Syria owed to the TRA, which are approximately SYP 100 billion in total, according to its share in the mobile network operator. A schedule of payments is expected to be agreed. The TRA announced that it is working out a payment mechanism with MTN Syria to settle the amounts due and to rebalance the terms of the license agreement. The move followed progress in discussions with the minority shareholder TeleInvest Ltd. The majority stake of 73.46% in MTN Syria is held by Investcom Mobile Communications Ltd., which is a subsidiary of the South African-based MTN Group Ltd.
  • According to the Deputy Minister of Communications and Technology, the National Network Services Authority issued the regulations for accrediting private companies to provide IT security services for the benefit of public bodies.

Finance

  • The Monetary and Credit Council raised deposit rates for foreign currencies. The minimum rate on US Dollars is now 3.5% and for Euros, it is one percent. One-year deposits of $50,000 (US) or more accrue five percent interest while for €50,000 or more, the interest rate is 1.5%.
  • A number of foreign exchange companies reportedly intended to sell foreign currencies at the rate of SYP 1,450 per US Dollar as of May 31st. Accordingly, that would add to the layer of parallel foreign exchange rates currently on offer on both the official and unofficial markets.
  • The Ministry of Economy and Foreign Trade issued a directive to include projects concerned with the restoration of fertilizer plants to the Interest Rate Support Program whereby the government will subsidize seven percent of interest rates offered by banks to manufacturers. Three fertilizer plants owned by the state’s General Corporation for Fertilizers are currently the subject of public-private partnership investments by the Russian company Stroytransgaz. The Interest Rate Support Program complements the government’s Import Substitution Program, which seeks to promote the local production of 67 items so as to avoid their importation and thereby ease pressures on the value of the Syrian Pound.
  • The Central Bank requested private banks not to distribute any dividends to shareholders with respect to profits realized in 2019.

Taxation

  • President Bashar Al-Assad issued Legislative Decree 10/2020, which exempts raw materials imported for local industries and subjected to a customs duty of one percent as per the schedule issued by Resolution 377/2014 from the duty itself and other taxes and fees for a period of one year. Furthermore, the Ministry of Finance issued a resolution containing the executive regulations of Legislative Decree 10/2020. It remains to be seen whether manufacturers will pass down the lower production costs along the supply chains to consumers. There will be concern that some industrialists or merchants may attempt to increase their profit margins by maintaining prices at their current rates.
  • President Bashar Al-Assad issued Legislative Decree 12/2020, which extends all legal deadlines included in tax legislation taking into consideration the preventative measures adopted to prevent the spread of COVID-19 starting on March 22, 2020.

Corporate

  • The number of companies incorporated in Syria this year compared with the same period last year dropped by more than 60%, which is reportedly due to the advent of COVID-19.
  • The new Minister of Internal Trade and Consumer Protection issued Directives 1272/2020 and 1273/2020 revoking the certificates of incorporation of Alpha LLC and Falcon LLC respectively, which are private security firms.

Tourism

  • A majority of councilors of Tartous City Council approved a draft contract with a private company to invest in the marina site on the city’s seaside. Copies of the contract were sent to the Ministry of Tourism as part of the procedures. The project is envisioned to include a five-star 500-bed hotel and mixed-use facilities. The build-operate-transfer investment contract is expected to be valid for a duration of 45 years, at which point it will revert back to Tartous City Council. The execution period of the project will be set for 47 months. The investor will pay an annual royalty to Tartous City Council amounting to 14% of total revenues, which should be at least SYP 612 million. The annual royalty will be increased by five percent every five years.
  • The Supreme Tourism Council chaired by then-Prime Minister Imad Khamis approved the response plan prepared by the Ministry of Tourism to mitigate the consequences of COVID-19 on the tourism sector, including by offering fee exemptions and the granting of loans to concerned businesses.
  • The Council of Ministers approved the reopening of touristic establishments of all kinds, including parks and restaurants, in accordance with the requirements and standards set by the Ministry of Tourism.

Transport

  • The M4 international highway extending from the Syrian-Iraqi border crossing at Yaroubiyeh to Aleppo via Hassakeh has been secured by the Syrian Arab Army for civilian traffic following several reported breaches by Turkish-backed fighters. Traffic on the M4 was disrupted last October following Turkey’s incursion into northeastern Syria and its capture of parts of the highway. Russia reportedly played a key mediation role to secure the reopening of the M4. The M4 was inaugurated in 1950. By 1980, it extended from the Syrian-Iraqi border to the Mediterranean coast crossing through Hassakeh, Raqqa and Aleppo. It meets the other major international highway the M5 in Saraqib in the province of Idlib before continuing to Lattakia. Full control over the M4 and the M5 is integral to fully uniting Syrian territories and ensuring the free movement of persons and goods. The M5 was fully secured by government forces in February, which stretches from Aleppo to Damascus to the Syrian-Jordanian border at Nassib.
  • The highway connecting the provinces of Aleppo and Raqqa via the city of Tabaqa reopened to traffic for the first time since early 2013, the same period that Raqqa fell out of government control. Travelers had to make diversions on the road passing through Salamiyeh since 2013. The reopening of this highway follows on from the reopening of the M5 connecting Aleppo to Damascus to the Syrian-Jordanian border at Nassib and the M4 covering the stretch from Aleppo to the Syrian-Iraqi border at Yaroubiyeh. The M4 and the M5 are the main transport arteries of the country.
  • The Ministry of Internal Trade and Consumer Protection approved the incorporation of Golden Wings Co., the seventh private airline licensed in Syria. Only two private airlines operate for the time being – Cham Wings and Fly Damas – alongside the national carrier Syrian Airlines. Five private airline companies have not launched operations yet. In 2018, the Ministry of Transport announced the criteria for licensing private airline companies, which require the minimum share capital to be SYP 500 million, excluding the price of the aircrafts.
  • According to the Deputy Foreign Minister, EU countries denied sanctions waivers against Syria to permit Syrian Airlines to land in European airports in order to repatriate Syrian nationals wishing to return home during the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • Based on a recommendation from the Economic Committee affiliated to the Council of Ministers, the Ministry of Petroleum and Mineral Resources stopped supplying subsidized gasoline to owners of cars with an engine capacity of 2000 CC or more. The restriction on the provision of subsidized gasoline also applies where an individual or company owns more than one car. Accordingly, 91% of cars will still benefit from subsidized gasoline while the new restrictions only affect nine percent of all motor vehicles. The total number of registered cars in Syria amount to 787,298. 720,215 cars will not be affected while 67,083 vehicles will be.
  • According to the Ministry of Transport, the inclusion of Syrian maritime certificates within the list of countries recognized by the Panamanian Maritime Authority allows Syrian seafarers to work on the vast number of ships that fly the Panamanian flag. The opening of the Syrian Maritime Academy in September 2018, and recent developments in maritime training and qualifications were reportedly key factors in meeting the conditions for inclusion on the list.

Energy

  • Foreign mercenaries reportedly dismantled the Zayzoun Power Station in Hama, which was inaugurated in 1998 and was considered one of the largest electricity generating stations in Syria. It serviced large areas of the provinces of Hama, Idlib, Lattakia and Tartous. Damages sustained by the electricity and energy sectors along with sanctions are reportedly the main reasons for the blackouts and power rationing throughout Syria. The destruction of the Zayzoun Power Station alone will apparently require €400 million to rehabilitate. The government’s expenses for fuel needed to produce electrical power amount to around SYP 3 billion per day. The electricity sector alone consumes 85% of natural gas produced locally. In response, the Council of Ministers approved a renewable energy strategy in October 2019.
  • The Economic and Energy Affairs Committee in the People’s Assembly discussed a bill that provides for the ratification of the oil and gas exploration and production contract in Block 12 in the Abou Kamal region that falls within the framework of Syrian-Iranian agreements. The contract is based on an economic agreement signed between Syria and Iran on March 16, 2015, whose returns aim to repay the long-term line of credit extended by Iran to Syria that dates from 2013 until 2019. Block 12 is comprised of 6,702 square kilometers.
  • According to the Minister of Petroleum and Mineral Resources, Syria requires 146,000 barrels of crude oil per day while production amounts to 24,000 barrels per day, or 16.4% of demand. As such, 122,000 barrels need to be imported every day to plug the gap in the markets.
  • The Ministry of Petroleum and Mineral Resources put the Qara 8 gas well into service with a production capacity of nearly 150,000 cubic meters per day, which will be used to boost the amount of electricity generated at the power plants.
  • At a cost of SYP 128 million, the Ministry of Agriculture and Agrarian Reform in partnership with a company launched Syria’s first plant to extract biogas from animal waste so that it can be used to generate energy and fill gas cylinders at a time when fuel supplies are limited. Half of Syria’s daily domestic market needs for gas are secured through local production while the remaining 50% are imported. Syria requires 120,000 gas cylinders daily in the summer and 160,000 gas cylinders daily during the winter.
  • The Council of Ministers discussed potential amendments to the law establishing the Atomic Energy Commission, with a view to enabling the Commission to contribute to economic development, utilize scientific research and the incorporation of companies to finance research.

Construction

  • Two Saudi investors incorporated a company in Syria to trade in construction materials.

Real Estate

  • Following a meeting of the Board of Commissioners of the General Commission for Real Estate Development and Investment, the Minister of Public Works and Housing called on real estate developers to commence their projects within one year from the date of their license or risk having it revoked. The Board of Commissioners canceled the licenses of 13 companies in 2019 for failing to start works on their projects. 61 companies have been licensed as real estate developers, of which six are public sector companies. Moreover, the Director of the General Commission for Real Estate Development and Investment revealed a request by Emessa Ltd. to create a real estate development zone in the Mezzeh district of Damascus whose approval can be granted by the Council of Ministers pursuant to the Real Estate Investment Law 15/2008.
  • The General Manager of the General Establishment for the Hijaz Railway revealed details about the investment license granted to a private company to develop the area around the former historic station into a touristic complex. The investment will be carried out on a build-operate-transfer basis. The duration of the investment is set at 45 years and the private company is contractually obliged to pay an annual royalty to the General Establishment amounting to SYP 1.6 billion or 16% of revenues, whichever is greater. The royalty will be raised every three years by five percent. In the last three-year period of the investment, the royalty should reach SYP 3.167 billion per year. At the end of the investment license, the complex reverts back in full to the General Establishment. The project, located in central Damascus, will be known as the Nirvana Complex. The Nirvana Complex, once completed, is envisioned to be comprised of a five-star 300-bed hotel, restaurants and other commercial and mixed-use facilities. The General Establishment will only be providing the land. It will be up to the private company to execute the full project.

Health

  • Although the Ministry of Health raised the prices of some medicines, pharmacists and manufacturers are not satisfied since the fluctuating exchange rate coupled with price controls are yielding losses for them when faced with imports of pharmaceutical products and raw materials. There is also a risk that vendors will avoid selling medicines while they wait for the exchange rate to stabilize to minimize their losses as expensive foreign exchange to import pharmaceutical products and raw materials create a disincentive to sell medicines at capped rates.
  • The Ministry of Health licensed six out of 96 drug laboratories across Syria to produce hydroxychloroquine to treat patients diagnosed with COVID-19. Production is ramping up despite US and EU sanctions which complicate the importation of raw materials and laboratory equipment. Moreover, the price of a box of hydroxychloroquine tablets has been fixed by the Ministry of Health at SYP 6,800, a competitive price for a drug that is hugely in demand around the world.
  • On the COVID-19 agenda, the government ordered the cancellation of the night-time curfew as of May 26th, the lifting of the travel ban between the provinces, and the extension of the opening times for commercial establishments from 8AM until 7PM during the summer season.
  • There will be a temporary halt to repatriation flights following an increase in COVID-19 cases reportedly from among Syrian expatriates returning from overseas. The measure was announced against the backdrop of a further easing of restrictions against the movement of persons.
  • UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric stated that the UN assessed the needs and identified $385 million (US) in additional requirements for 2020 to address COVID-19 across Syria.

Education

  • President Bashar Al-Assad issued Legislative Decree 11/2020, which increases the annual allowances granted by private universities and educational institutions to the families of martyred, wounded and missing personnel from the military and security forces. The Law provides that no less than two percent of the number of places in each college or institute within private universities and educational institutions be allocated to students from the aforementioned categories.

Employment

  • The government restored normal working hours in all parts of the public sector as part of the easing of restrictions imposed in response to COVID-19 risks.

Agriculture

  • Then-Prime Minister Imad Khamis directed the allocation of SYP 450 billion for the procurement of the entire wheat crop for the current season, which is estimated at 2.9 million tons and covers an area of 1,355,000 hectares.
  • The Council of Ministers agreed to raise the government’s procurement price for wheat harvested by Syrian farmers from SYP 225 per kilogram to SYP 400 per kilogram. In other words, it is offering to pay farmers SYP 400 per kilogram of wheat. The measure may have been in response to possible increased competition for the wheat from US-backed Kurdish non-state actors based in northeastern Syria who are also seeking to stock up on wheat from farmers in their area of control.
  • Syrian authorities accused US forces of dropping thermal balloons over agricultural land in Shaddadi in rural Hassakeh, which burned down 20 hectares of the available wheat crop. The allegation is that the US wants to prevent local farmers from selling their produce to Damascus.
  • Syria accused Turkish-backed forces of setting fire to harvested wheat and barley fields belonging to locals of rural Ras Al-Ain and other villages in the province of Hassakeh.

Immigration

  • The Minister of Interior revealed that a Malaysian company has been contracted to undertake the electronic passports project. He also explained that a second project to modify personal identity cards will be carried out after government control is extended to all Syrian territories.

Media

  • The Minister of Information revealed that his Ministry’s supervision over drama series is carried out after they air on private television channels and not prior to, which is apparently a loophole in the current Media Law. The new Media Bill, which is presently with the Ministry of Justice, is expected to address this issue and others. The controversy was sparked during a meeting of the Media and Communications Committee in the People’s Assembly over the content of a drama series where the Minister of Information encountered sharp exchanges with MPs. The Minister explained that the Ministry’s Supervisory Committee has no control over private television channels licensed in foreign jurisdictions, even if owned by Syrian nationals, that air the soap operas, which was the situation in the immediate case.

Military

  • The Syrian Arab Army received the second group of modern and advanced MiG-29 fighter jets from Russia at a ceremony at Hmeimim Base in Lattakia.

Parliament

  • As part of the precautionary measures to tackle COVID-19, President Bashar Al-Assad issued Decree 121/2020 further postponing parliamentary elections to the People’s Assembly from May 20, 2020 until July 19, 2020.

Local Councils

  • President Bashar Al-Assad appointed new governors for the provinces of Homs, Hassakeh, Daraa, Suwaida and Quneitra.

Judiciary

  • The Supreme Judicial Council did not renew the suspension of the courts any further and accordingly, the Ministry of Justice reopened the courts on May 31st as a backlog of lawsuits now require adjudication after more than two months of inactivity in the judiciary.

International

  • Russian President Vladimir Putin has reportedly signed a directive tasking the Ministry of Defense and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs with holding negotiations with Syria on expanding Russian assets in the country. It is anticipated that there will be a protocol to the Agreement between the Russian Federation and the Syrian Arab Republic on the deployment of an aviation group of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation on the territory of the Syrian Arab Republic of August 26, 2015. Russia currently has two permanent facilities in Syria, which include the Hmeimim Base in Lattakia and a naval facility in Tartous.
  • Russian President Vladimir Putin issued a decree appointing the Russian Ambassador to Syria Alexander Yefimov as the Special Envoy of the Russian President for developing relations with Syria.
  • The former Greek Ambassador to Syria has been appointed as the Special Envoy for Syria in Greece and there is speculation that her appointment is a prelude to the resumption of Syrian-Greek diplomatic relations as it appears to have provoked the ire of Turkey’s President.
  • Despite international pleas against such a move in light of the COVID-19 pandemic, US President Donald Trump renewed the US sanctions regime against Syria for another year. It is anticipated that the Caesar Act secondary sanctions against Syria will start to be applied in June.
  • Despite earlier flirtations with the idea of easing sanctions against Syria to help it cope with COVID-19, the EU extended its sanctions regime against Syria for another year.
  • The European Commission published guidance on how aid in response to COVID-19 can be delivered to Syria without falling foul of EU sanctions, though there is much skepticism that suppliers would be willing to take such risks for fear of raising any potential compliance issues.
  • A consensus may be emerging that if the COVID-19 pandemic boosts China’s progress on the path towards becoming a major player in global finance in the foreseeable future, the effects of the international sanctions regime against Syria could significantly diminish.