The regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad is falling apart. Its prime minister has fled the country, and its military equipment is reportedly breaking down. Its tanks, helicopters and aircraft are thirsty for fuel, and Syria’s diplomats have scrambled to find countries willing to sell Assad enough gasoline to keep his reign going.
Now the regime might survive, at least for a little while. On Friday, Syria secured a crucial oil deal with Russia. Under the deal, Russia will ship refined gasoline to fuel-starved Syria. In exchange, the Syrian regime will ship unrefined crude oil to Russia. According to the Associated Press, the gasoline is “sorely needed” in order for the regime “to keep its economy and military running.”
The reason for Syria’s economic troubles is Assad’s lack of extensive oil refineries. An oil pipeline to one refinery was blown up in January, and his regime has been choked by U.S./European Union sanctions. With as much as an estimated one-third of the regime’s budget coming from crude exports, Assad’s ability to pay his bills — and import refined gasoline to fuel his army — had been pauperized. Assad was forced to rely in part on the occasional Venezuelan tanker ship. “We need oil, oil products,” said Qadri Jamil, Syria’s deputy prime minister for economics. “Shortages of these materials are making the situation in the country difficult.”
And making it harder to fight a war. Helicopters, tanks and mechanized infantry have been the regime’s strike force against the Free Syrian Army. In late July, Assad unleashed his air force on the northern city of Aleppo — Syria’s largest city — in what may have been the biggest air attack of the war. Syria’s military is reliant the heavy weapons, intended to fight a conventional war against Israel but now being used in a messy unconventional war against lightly armed rebel soldiers.