While Greece is struggling to deal with more than 64,000 refugees and migrants, most from war—torn Syria, the ruling Radical Left SYRIZA-led coalition is helping prop up Syrian President Bashar-as Assad by reviving phosphate imports from mines near the ancient city of Palmyra.
Sales of the mineral — mainly used as a fertilizer — are critical to Assad because international sanctions are restricting his access to hard currency that could be eased with Greek purchases, the news site Politico reported.
Phosphate shipments to Europe — heading almost exclusively to Greece — are resuming and more than tripled between December 2017 to April 2018, although remain relatively small overall.
Syria is being able to export again because Russian investors have resurrected the Palmyra mines, which Islamic State militia captured in 2015. Assad awarded these reserves to the Russians last year after Moscow helped him turn the tide against ISIS.
One market observer with knowledge of the Russian investment told Politico the shipments are heading to Greece from the port of Tartus, home port of Russia’s Mediterranean fleet. “Availability is about 60,000 tons for export per month,” he said.
Before the war, Greece was a big importer of Syrian phosphates and in 2012 under a New Democracy government was the main opponent to European Union sanctions on Syrian phosphates.