EU oil ban to cost Assad €9 million a day
EU countries have adopted a blanket ban on import of oil products from Syria, in a move set to cost the regime almost €9 million per day.
The package of sanctions - which also includes blacklisting four more Syrian officials and three companies - will legally enter into force on Saturday (3 September). But the oil ban is post-dated to take effect from 15 November after Italy said most EU firms have pre-paid Syria for contracts up to 30 November.
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EU countries - chiefly France, Germany, Italy and the Netherlands - are currently importing around 110,000 barrels a day of Syrian heavy crude.
The grade sells at a small discount to the benchmark Brent crude quality due to its high sulphur content. But at today's prices, the EU ban amounts to some €8.7 million a day in lost income for President Bashar Assad's regime.
"In view of the gravity of the situation in Syria, the council today further tightened the EU's sanctions against that country ... The prohibition concerns purchase, import and transport of oil and other petroleum products from Syria. No financial or insurance services may be provided for such transactions," the EU diplomatic service said in a communique on Friday.
The move comes after the EU and US two weeks ago called on Assad to step down amid reports of atrocities against protesters.
"EU ban on import of oil from Syria will truly bite. Third of hard currency earnings of country. We are serious," Swedish foreign minister Carl Bildt tweeted from an informal meeting of EU heads of diplomacy in Poland on Friday.
Italian foreign ministry spokesman Maurizio Massari earlier this week told EUobserver: "I wouldn't talk about 'regime change.' We said Assad has lost legitimacy in the eyes of Syrian people and he should accept that. This is our position, but it's not 'regime change'. Regime change means it is brought about from the outside. This is something that the Syrian population, which has been the victim of violent repression, something they want."
Assad's main ally, Iran, has also begun to back away in a development which could hasten his fall more quickly than any EU sanctions.
Iranian foreign minister Ali Akbar Salehi last weekend said Syrian protesters have "legitimate demands." Iranian MP Ahmad Avaei said on Friday in the state-run Fars News Agency: "Supporting the Syrian rulers at any cost was not right, as those who staged the protests were Muslims, and their protests were legitimate."
For its part, Russia, another long-term ally of Syria is continuing to stick by its side.
Russia's Nato minister Dmitry Rogozin in an interview with this website on Thursday said Moscow will not back EU-drafted UN sanctions against President Assad in case the move leads to Nato bombs "dropping on Damascus" as they did on Libya.
He also endorsed the Assad line that Muslim radicals have infiltrated protests and killed scores of security officers.
"We think they are Islamists, but still I don't think anybody has air-dropped them," Rogozin said, describing the alleged insurgents as a home-grown peril along the lines of radical Muslims in Russia's north Caucasus.
He noted that "hundreds" of Syrian security personnel have been killed and "thousands" injured over the past five months. "Nobody speaks about this," he said.