Damascus signed an oil and gas deal with a Russian company Wednesday which will allow for the first-ever exploration off Syria’s coast.
The agreement was signed by Syrian Oil Minister Suleiman Abbas, Syria’s General Petroleum Company and the Russian Soyuzneftegaz company, according to an AFP reporter present at the signing.
The deal permits the exploration of an area of 2,190 square kilometres (850 square miles) in the Mediterranean.
The contract “is the first ever for oil and gas exploration in Syria’s waters,” General Petroleum Company head Ali Abbas told AFP.
“It will be financed by Russia, and should oil and gas be discovered in commercial quantities, Moscow will recover the exploration costs.”
Oil Minister Abbas said during the signing ceremony that the contract covers “25 years, over several phases,” adding that “the cost of exploration and discovery is $100 million.”
Hard-hit by international sanctions, Syria’s oil production has plummeted by 90 percent since the start of the uprising against President Bashar al-Assad in March 2011.
Gas production has also dived to 16.7 million cubic metres a day from 30 million before the war broke out, according to official figures.
The Syrian oil ministry said the new accord comes “after months of long negotiations” between Damascus and Moscow.
Russia is one of Assad’s main backers, as well as a key proponent, along with the United States, of peace talks slated for January in Switzerland.
Syria’s war, which erupted after the regime launched a brutal crackdown on peaceful pro-democracy protests, has claimed an estimated 126,000 lives since March 2011 and displaced millions of people.