MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russia is setting up a direct shipping line to Syria and wants its companies to help build an economic recovery in the war-torn Middle Eastern country, the TASS news agency quoted Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin as saying on Tuesday.
The report did not specify what a direct shipping line would entail, but any increase in agricultural and other supplies from Russia or help in reviving exports would be a boost for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
Russia, one of the world’s largest wheat exporters, supports Assad in the long-running civil war in Syria and has previously helped his government with wheat aid.
“A direct shipping line between Russian and Syrian ports is being established,” Rogozin, in charge of the military industrial complex, told a meeting of a Russian-Syrian commission on trade cooperation, according to the agency.
Agricultural goods are currently transported by a company called Oboronlogistika, which is “interested in expanding its services,” he said.
Oboronlogistika says on its website it acts under the jurisdiction of Russia’s defence ministry, organising cargo transportation, customs clearance and warehouse services.
Its fleet includes three ships with loading function for transportation of cargo in trailers and containers.
Syria was once self-sufficient in wheat but continued fighting in the main grain-producing areas in its northeastern regions has reduced its crops in recent years.
Trade between Russia and Syria rose by 42 percent year-on-year to $193 million (146.28 million pounds) in the first seven months of 2017, according to Rogozin. However, Syria’s exports to Russia only amounted to $2 million in the period.
“This is mainly related to a lack of necessary infrastructure for exports and commissioning of local agricultural produce, which makes it economically unviable to supply Syrian vegetables and fruits,” he said.
The plan is to create a closed loop to grow, pack, store and export Syrian vegetables and fruit to Russia in the near future, he said.
“We now state that it’s time for economic restoration and expect that Russia’s businesses will play the most active role in this process,” Rogozin added.
Reporting by Polina Devitt; Editing by Dmitry Solovyov and Mark Potter