Syria has rewarded its key backer Russia by awarding it a prime offshore exploration block. Russia supplies arms, oil products and possibly credit to the sanctions-hit Asad regime.

The exploration deal with Kremlin-backed Soyuzneftegaz covers 2,190 sq km (‘Block 2’): 30km from south to north, from Tartous to Banias, and offshore for 70km. The head of Syria’s state oil firm ‘Ali ‘Abbas says the agreement is the first ever to be signed for oil and gas offshore Syria. Syria previously tried to attract interest in offshore exploration but with little success. In March 2011 – on the eve of the ongoing war – Syria offered almost all its exclusive economic zone to exploration, split into three blocks of around 3,000 sq km (MEES, 4 April 2011). This followed a failed 2007 bid round. But a flurry of major recent gas finds in the eastern Mediterranean has spurred interest in the region. Lebanon, which like Syria has so far made no offshore discoveries and is not short of political instability, has attracted interest from a who’s-who of key IOCs including Exxon, Chevron, Shell, Total and Eni (MEES, 6 September 2013). (CONTINUED - 451 WORDS)