Russia invites Lebanon to Astana summit

Russian envoy to Syria Alexander Lavrentiev addresses media persons in Beirut on Wednesday. (AP)
Updated 20 June 2019

Russia invites Lebanon to Astana summit

  • “The participation of Lebanon and Iraq is necessary when discussing the Syrian crisis”

BEIRUT: The Russian president’s special envoy to Syria, Alexander Lavrentiev, has invited Lebanon to participate in the Astana conference as an observer. 

“Lebanon has decided to send a delegate to participate in this conference at the end of July and the beginning of … August,” Lavrentiev said after meeting Lebanese officials. “The participation of Lebanon and Iraq is necessary when discussing the Syrian crisis.”

Lavrentiev spoke to Lebanese President Michel Aoun about Moscow’s efforts to achieve stability in the Middle East, and said Russia “will do more to address the situation in Syria” in coordination with the UN secretary-general’s special envoy to Syria, Geir Pedersen.

“We need to create the right conditions for the return of (Syrian) refugees,” said Lavrentiev. “It is necessary that refugees return under appropriate conditions and not to destroyed areas.”

Aoun told Lavrentiev: “Lebanon is interested in participating in the Astana conference because it facilitates efforts to find a political solution that will contribute to the return of refugees to their country.” 

Aoun said: “Participation in the Astana conference does not negate Lebanon’s right to discuss with the Syrian state arrangements for the return of refugees to their homeland. We consider Russian support for this return an important factor awaiting the participants in the Astana negotiating process to reach a final solution to the Syrian crisis.”

Lavrentiev said after meeting with Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri: “Eight years since the start of the Syrian crisis, it is time to allow for a political solution to this crisis, and we agreed with the Lebanese side to further coordinate with partners, especially European countries, in order to convince them to keep up with the return of refugees.”

There have been systematic campaigns in Lebanon, including by the Labor Ministry and municipalities, against employing Syrian workers. In addition, dozens of shops operated by Syrians without permits are closed every day. 

Lebanese Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil said two weeks ago: “We will not accept that the Lebanese remain without work while Syrian refugees work illegally.”

He added: “Municipalities should not allow Syrians to work except in the sectors of agriculture, cleaning and construction, and prevent overcrowding.”

Bassil said: “Mayors must revoke licenses and prevent the opening of shops that are not legally entitled to Syrian workers.”

The Interior Ministry “is not entitled to intervene against a mayor who is enforcing the law,” he added. “Syria is a vast country and Lebanon cannot handle this number of refugees.”

After a meeting between Lavrentiev and Bassil, the Lebanese Foreign Ministry said the discussion focused on “the need to form a tripartite Russian-Lebanese-Syrian committee that facilitates the return of the refugees.”


Syrian pound plummets as new US sanctions loom

Updated 06 June 2020

Syrian pound plummets as new US sanctions loom

  • Syria is in the thick of an economic crisis compounded by a coronavirus lockdown and a dollar liquidity crunch in neighboring Lebanon
  • The UN food agency said any further depreciation risked increasing the cost of imported basic food items

BEIRUT: Syria’s pound hit record lows on the black market Saturday trading at over 2,300 to the dollar, less than a third of its official value, traders said, ahead of new US sanctions.
Three traders in Damascus told AFP by phone that the dollar bought more than 2,300 Syrian pounds for the first time, though the official exchange rate remained fixed at around 700 pounds to the greenback.
After nine years of war, Syria is in the thick of an economic crisis compounded by a coronavirus lockdown and a dollar liquidity crunch in neighboring Lebanon.
Last month, the central bank warned it would clamp down on currency “manipulators.”
Analysts said concerns over the June 17 implementation of the US Caesar Act, which aims to sanction foreign persons who assist the Syrian government or help in post-war reconstruction, also contributed to the de fact devaluation.
Zaki Mehchy, a senior consulting fellow at Chatham House, said foreign companies — including from regime ally Russia — were already opting not to take any risks.
With money transactions requiring two to three weeks to implement, “today’s transactions will be paid after June 17,” he said.
Heiko Wimmen, Syria project director at the conflict tracker Crisis Group, said that with the act coming into force, “doing business with Syria will become even more difficult and risky.”
Both analysts said the fall from grace of top business tycoon Rami Makhlouf despite being a cousin of the president was also affecting confidence.
“The Makhlouf saga is spooking the rich,” Wimmen said.
After the Damascus government froze assets of the head of the country’s largest mobile phone operator and slapped a travel ban on him, the wealthy feel “nobody is safe,” he said.
They are thinking “you better get your assets and perhaps yourself out preparing for further shakedowns,” he said.
Mehchy said the impact of the pound’s decline and ensuing price hikes on Syrians would be “catastrophic.”
Most of Syria’s population lives in poverty, according to the United Nations, and food prices have doubled over the past year.
The UN food agency’s Jessica Lawson said any further depreciation risked increasing the cost of imported basic food items such as rice, pasta and lentils.
“These price increases risk pushing even more people into hunger, poverty and food insecurity as Syrians’ purchasing power continues to erode,” the World Food Programme spokeswoman said.
“Families may be forced to cut the quality and quantity of food they buy.”