By Matthew Schaller
Business deals between the competing forces are increasingly taking hold in Syria even as Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and his Russian allies are officially at war with the Islamic State. The Tuweinan gas facility, located about 60 miles southwest of the de-facto ISIS capital of Mosul, is an example of the renegotiation of Syrian business deals with the Islamic State.
The gas facility was built by Gennady Timchenko, a close Putin ally and head of the Russian construction company Stroytransgaz. According to Foreign Policy, the contract was given to the company by the Syrian government in 2007. The company also employed a Syrian subcontractor, Russian-Syrian dual national George Haswani, and his company Hesco to fulfill the terms of the deal. Hesco and Stroytransgaz have worked together on numerous projects in the Middle East and sub-Saharan Africa.
This process was halted in January 2013 when a joint coalition of Syrian rebel groups captured the facility. By the following year, the facility had changed hands and the Islamic State was continuing to allow Stroytransgaz construction rights. David Butter, an associate fellow at Chatham House, highlights the complexity of this deal. According to him, the Islamic State sends some of the natural gas “to the Aleppo power station… and the remainder is pumped to Homs and Damascus.”
According to the Financial Times, the Tuweinan deal results in the Syrian regime receiving 50 megawatts of electricity while the Islamic State gets 300 barrels of condensate and 70 megawatts of electricity. In addition, Russian engineers at the plant send the Islamic State a monthly stipend of about $50,000 in order to protect their valuable equipment.
The Tuweinan deal shows that even in times of war, adversaries are still able to cut economic and political agreements to suit their respective ends. According to Aron Lund, editor for the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace (CEIP), these arrangements persist throughout Syria: “You have them between Islamic State, but also between Islamic State and rival Sunni Arab rebels… and so on.”
Deals like these and other actions taken by the Russians in recent months have had a profound impact on the relations between Turkey and Russia, and on the Syrian peace talks. As recently as the end of January, Turkey has increased its trench network and troop strength along its border with Syria. International Business Times reports that Turkish President Erdogan stated that his country will not tolerate Russian aggression “along the area stretching from the Iraqi border up to the Mediterranean,” but his statements are still failing to address the primary cause of tension in this region.
According to Sputnik News, increased tensions between Russia and Turkey can be attributed to the latter’s downing of a Russian bomber over Syrian airspace. This ultimately resulted in Russia moving S-400 defense systems to one of its airbases in Syria.
Whether or not the international community can agree to a framework of peace for the Syrian civil war remains to be seen. CEIP editor Lund stressed that, no matter the outcome, these backdoor deals will continue to be widespread and “national institutions, infrastructure, and much of the economy will necessarily remain shared.”