Syrian sanctions stalled as EU eyes oil

The head of the Arab League is due to visit Syria on Wednesday in a bid to persuade the country's leader, President Bashar al-Assad, to end the six-month-long crackdown on the uprising there.

­It comes after EU countries announced a new round of sanctions against the regime. But many are questioning whether Western concern is for Syrian lives or merely for their own oil revenues.

Britain's Foreign Secretary William Hague says that “horrific scenes of brutality” have forced this oil ban on Syria. But bizarrely, sanctions will not start for over a month.

“They'll kick in only when European oil firms complete their supply contracts with Syria,” says political analyst Pierre Piccinin.

And oilfields developed by EU energy giants like France’s Total are not being touched.

“A very strange way from an ethical point of view, because sanctions only start in November, Total will go on with the production of oil,” says Pierre Guerlain of Paris West University.

As a result, the EU may end up continuing to subsidize the regime they oppose.

The oil industry can use 60-day payment terms, so the EU could still be funding Bashar al-Assad into next year. If his crimes are “horrific”, critics ask why the EU is putting profits above Syrian lives. Diplomats warn sanctions will not even hit the mark. They hurt ordinary people, not the leadership they claim to target, nor, most importantly, Europe's oil companies.

“These [sanctions] have to be on the shoulders of the Syrian people, while their companies are protected,” diplomat Mohamed Hassan explains.

The EU is also hurting itself, experts think, as Damascus will simply shift supply to the competition.

“If you look at Syria, already the Chinese authorities have said they will buy any oil they can,” Middle East expert Alex Korbel told RT.

EU officials hoped new stocks of the black gold from Libya would take up the slack, but they may be disappointed.

“Libya will not start to be very productive until the end of next year, and if there were an embargo on Syrian oil today, there would be a shortfall,” Pierre Guerlain added.

With the war against Colonel Gaddafi taking much longer than the West expected, Europe may be cutting off one supply before it has secured another.

­Ludovic de Danne, European affairs advisor to Marine Le Pen, France's far-right National Front Party leader, says that now with Libyan oil no longer blocked, the EU has more time to focus on Syria.

De Danne regrets that it is next to impossible to obtain a proper picture of what is actually going on in Syria.

French writers went to Syria and came back a couple of weeks ago. They have witnessed that it is not as bad as it seems. Actually, there are problems in the region of Homs, where it is much smaller. It is not a kind of revolution, but has some religious background,” de Danne told RT.


­Sanctions against Syria are “a blunt instrument that does not discriminate between the regime and the people,” says Professor Edmund Ghareeb, a peace expert and a global relations scholar at the American University in Washington DC.

Professor Ghareeb recalls that the same policies did not work towards Iraq or Cuba.

If we look at what happened with Iraq and Cuba, we will find out that the peoples of those countries were the ones who paid the heaviest price. The upper echelons of the regime were not affected as much, although sanctions contributed to some destabilization within the countries,” the professor told RT.