Friday, April 27, 2012

How's that reset button working for us. The Syrian tale.

How Russia, Iran keep fuel flowing to Syria

Thu, Apr 26 2012

* Russian, Iranian gasoil sent to Syria over past month

* Iran may be receiving gasoline in exchange for gasoil

* Syrian crude oil also lifted by Iran-linked vessels

By Jessica Donati and Julia Payne

LONDON, April 26 (Reuters) - Russia and Iran are helping Syria import fuel which it needs for heavy vehicles including army tanks, allowing Damascus to avoid the full impact of tightening Western sanctions imposed over its violent suppression of dissent.

Syria received regular shipments of Russian gasoil and diesel over the winter and, despite Moscow's diplomatic support for demands that the government stop its attacks and pull back its forces, Russia sent another delivery this month.

The shipments appear to be legal, as neither Russia nor Iran has signed up to Western sanctions barring such trade, and Moscow has blocked U.N. Security Council sanctions that would apply to all countries.

But following the convoluted paper trail of the shipments shows how difficult it is for the West to enforce sanctions designed to restrict Syria's military capability, as long as Moscow prevents U.N. action.

The fuel sent by Russia, known as gasoil, can be marketed as diesel used for Syrian army tanks and heavy commercial vehicles, or as heating oil.

Oil producer Syria has two refineries, but also needs to import large amounts of gasoil to meet domestic demand, both for heating and for transport.

Western sanctions prohibit EU and U.S. firms from buying Syrian oil or doing business with Syrian companies handling imports of crude and refined products.

Most former suppliers have dropped out for fear of violating measures designed to punish President Bashar al-Assad for his crackdown on opponents.

That has forced Syria to rely for transport and heating fuel on a narrowing pool of allies, including Iran, which faces its own tightening sanctions because of a nuclear programme it says is peaceful but the West says aims to produce an atomic bomb.


The latest delivery of Russian fuel reached Banias in Syria from the port of Novorossiisk early this month, aboard the Liberia-flagged tanker Cape Benat.

Mahmoud El May, who heads East Mediterranean trading at Monaco-based Galaxy Energy Group confirmed the cargo was bought from a Russian company and delivered to Syria on April 12.

El May said deliveries were no longer possible for his firm because EU sanctions in March had added Syria's distribution company Mahrukat to the blacklist through which measures are enforced.

The EU's move has also forced Greek company Naftomar, previously a mainstay of Syrian imports, to halt deliveries of the heating fuel liquefied petroleum gas used in Syrian homes and businesses.

Non-EU firms may be able to take over from Galaxy and Naftomar, however, as sanctions apply only to firms based in the region.

Russia has provided Syria with weapons and shielded Assad by blocking two U.N. Security Council resolutions condemning his government for the crackdown, in which the United Nations says more than 9,000 people have been killed since March 2011.

Moscow has criticised Assad at times and backed envoy Kofi Annan's peace plan, including its demands for an end to violence and for withdrawals of government forces from cities and towns.

But there is no evidence Russia is about to alter its stance on trade with Syria. Moscow has criticised Western nations for imposing the sanctions, and along with China has blocked them in the Security Council, where Moscow and Beijing hold vetoes.

Russia's energy ministry on Thursday declined to comment on gasoil reaching Syria from Russian ports. The foreign ministry, which is responsible for Russia's policy on sanctions, declined immediate comment.


Syria's need for gasoil makes it a perfect fit to swap with Iran, which produces plenty of diesel but has struggled for years to find sufficient supplies of gasoline, the fuel used in most civilian cars.

An Iranian vessel completed an exchange this week in which it delivered around 32,000 tonnes of gasoil to Syria and returned to Iran with about 33,000 tonnes of gasoline.

Oil refineries produce both gasoline and diesel in different proportions depending on the quality of crude used and the design of the refinery.

According to International Energy Agency (IEA) data for 2009, Syria needed to import more than 2.8 million tonnes of gasoil o v er the year, b ut it produced enough gasoline and naphtha - a light fuel similar to gasoline - to have surpluses of those fuels for export.

The Syrian gasoline cargo arrived aboard the tanker Alvan at the weekend, docking at an Iranian terminal in the Gulf near Bandar Abbas, according to industry sources and ship tracking data.

Like many vessels associated with Iranian firms, the Alvan has repeatedly changed names and ownership to skirt sanctions on Iran. According to DNV, an organisation that classifies ships giving them documents necessary for insurance, the Alvan changed names and owners three times since 2011.

Until February, it was owned by Statira Maritime, a firm listed by the EU as a front for Islamic Republic of Iran Shipping Lines, which is subjected to EU sanctions. Since then, the ship has withdrawn from DNV classification, instead listing on the Russian Maritime register with new owners.


Syria's own crude exports, while small by world standards, are important for the government's finances and have been hurt by an EU embargo. Iran appears to be helping by loading ships with Syrian crude and bringing it into the Gulf, even though Tehran has been having difficulty finding buyers for its own sanctions-hit crude exports.

An Iran-linked vessel, the MT Tour, loaded up with Syrian crude at the end of March and dropped anchor near Iran's Bandar Abbas in mid-April. It was initially bound for Singapore, but then appeared to change course.

A second vessel, the Amin, loaded around 80,000 tonnes of heavy crude oil from Tartous, and a further 60,000 tonnes of light crude oil from Banias, at the start of April. It has since sailed the same course as the MT Tour.

It is not clear where the vessels will go next. As European and Asian customers cut back imports of Iranian oil due to sanctions, Iran has been storing millions of barrels of its own oil in tankers at sea.

The Amin was previously registered in Malta, but like the M.T. Tour, has recently changed its flag to Bolivia.

With Malta and Cyprus coming under increased pressure to stop flagging Iranian government-linked ships, there has been a flurry of registrations in the last few months half a world away in landlocked Bolivia. (Additional reporting by Daniel Fineren, Humeyra Pamuk, Emma Farge,Melissa Akin and Jonathan Saul; Editing by Anthony Barker and Peter Graff)

While Syria burns


Last year President Obama ordered U.S. intervention in Libya under the grand new doctrine of “Responsibility to Protect.” Moammar Gaddafi was threatening a massacre in Benghazi. To stand by and do nothing “would have been a betrayal of who we are,” explained the president.

In the year since, the government of Syria has more than threatened massacres. It has carried them out. Nothing hypothetical about the disappearances, executions, indiscriminate shelling of populated neighborhoods. More than 9,000 are dead.

Obama has said that we cannot stand idly by. And what has he done? Stand idly by.

Yes, we’ve imposed economic sanctions. But as with Iran, the economic squeeze has not altered the regime’s behavior. Monday’s announced travel and financial restrictions on those who use social media to track down dissidents is a pinprick. No Disney World trips for the chiefs of the Iranian and Syrian security agencies. And they might now have to park their money in Dubai instead of New York. That’ll stop ’em.

Obama’s other major announcement — at Washington’s Holocaust Museum, no less — was the creation of an Atrocities Prevention Board.

I kid you not. A board. Russia flies planeloads of weapons to Damascus. Iran supplies money, trainers, agents, more weapons. And what does America do? Support a feckless U.N. peace mission that does nothing to stop the killing. (Indeed, some of the civilians who met with the U.N. observers were summarily executed.) And establish an Atrocities Prevention Board.

With multiagency participation, mind you. The liberal faith in the power of bureaucracy and flowcharts, of committees and reports, is legend. But this is parody.

Now, there’s an argument to be made that we do not have a duty to protect. That foreign policy is not social work. That you risk American lives only when national security and/or strategic interests are at stake, not merely to satisfy the humanitarian impulses of some of our leaders.

But Obama does not make this argument. On the contrary. He goes to the Holocaust Museum to commit himself and his country to defend the innocent, to affirm the moral imperative of rescue. And then does nothing of any consequence.

His case for passivity is buttressed by the implication that the only alternative to inaction is military intervention — bombing, boots on the ground.

But that’s false. It’s not the only alternative. Why aren’t we organizing, training and arming the Syrian rebels in their sanctuaries in Turkey? Nothing unilateral here. Saudi Arabia is already planning to do so. Turkey has turned decisively against Bashar al-Assad. And the French are pushing for even more direct intervention.

Instead, Obama insists that we can act only with support of the “international community,” meaning the U.N. Security Council — where Russia and China have a permanent veto. By what logic does the moral legitimacy of U.S. action require the blessing of a thug like Vladimir Putin and the butchers of Tiananmen Square?

Our slavish, mindless self-subordination to “international legitimacy” does nothing but allow Russia — a pretend post-Soviet superpower — to extend a protective umbrella over whichever murderous client it chooses. Obama has all but announced that Russia (or China) has merely to veto international actions — sanctions, military assistance, direct intervention — and America will back off.

For what reason? Not even President Clinton, a confirmed internationalist, would acquiesce to such restraints. With Russia prepared to block U.N. intervention against its client, Serbia, Clinton saved Kosovo by summoning NATO to bomb the hell out of Serbia, the Russians be damned.

If Obama wants to stay out of Syria, fine. Make the case that it’s none of our business. That it’s too hard. That we have no security/national interests there.

In my view, the evidence argues against that, but at least a coherent case for hands-off could be made. That would be an honest, straightforward policy. Instead, the president, basking in the sanctity of the Holocaust Museum, proclaims his solemn allegiance to a doctrine of responsibility — even as he stands by and watches Syria burn.

If we are not prepared to intervene, even indirectly by arming and training Syrians who want to liberate themselves, be candid. And then be quiet. Don’t pretend the U.N. is doing anything. Don’t pretend the U.S. is doing anything. And don’t embarrass the nation with an Atrocities Prevention Board. The tragedies of Rwanda, Darfur and now Syria did not result from lack of information or lack of interagency coordination, but from lack of will.

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