A senior Russian delegation has traveled to Damascus to discuss the expansion of trade and economic ties with Syria, which is attempting to rebuild following nine years of devastating civil war and crippling U.S. sanctions.
Russia has been the chief military and economic sponsor of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, whose forces have battled opposition rebels since the conflict erupted in 2011.
Speaking during a meeting in the Syrian capital with Russian Deputy Prime Minister Yury Borisov and Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, Assad said he wanted to expand business ties with Russia.
“The government is determined to continue to work with Russian allies to implement signed agreements and to ensure the success of Russian investments in Syria,” the Syrian leader said, according to state media.
Borisov told a press conference he expected the countries to sign an economic deal by December that would provide “a new framework for trade and economic ties” for the “coming years.”
The accord proposed by Moscow includes the rehabilitation of power plants and oil exploration in Syrian waters in the Mediterranean, he said, adding that its aim is to provide relief from U.S. sanctions.
Lavrov, in Damascus for the first time since 2012, said Syria needed international help to rebuild its economy and accused Western countries of “trying to strangle the Syrian people.”
In June, Washington imposed sweeping sanctions targeting Assad in a bid to push Damascus back to the United Nations-led negotiating table to try to end the conflict.
The Syrian government, backed by Russia and Iran, has regained most territory from various rebel factions, except for an enclave in the northwest Idlib Province and some Kurdish-controlled areas.
But the war, which has killed some 700,000 people, has left towns and cities devasted, millions displaced and in poverty, and the economy crumbling under rising prices and currency collapse.