Russian naval vessels take part in a "navy day" celebration off the Syrian port of Tartus on July 29, 2018
Damascus (AFP) - Syria’s parliament on Wednesday ratified a bill handing management of the country’s largest port to a Russian firm for 49 years, state media said.
A deal between Damascus and the Russian company Stroytransgaz for the management, expansion and operation of Tartus port was first signed in late April.
It is one of many lucrative contracts between Damascus and Moscow, which has a naval base in Tartus and has been a key ally of President Bashar al-Assad’s regime.
The bill ratified on Wednesday, which still needs to be approved by the Syrian president, establishes a board of directors to oversee the management and operation of the port, the official SANA news agency said.
Under the agreement, the six directors would be split equally between Damascus and Stroytransgaz, but the board’s leadership would reserved for the Russian company, SANA said.
It also exempts the firm from paying customs and tariffs on imports for the duration of the expansion work, which is expected to take six years.
Parliamentarians said the expansion would benefit Syria’s ailing economy and represent an important step in support of the country’s reconstruction drive, according to SANA.
Syrian Transport Minister Ali Hammud described the agreement as “ideal”, according to SANA.
Hammud said it would yield “profitable returns” and transform Tartus port into an “economic gateway” connecting Syria to the rest of the Mediterranean.
Under the terms of the deal, Damascus could accrue up to 35 percent of profits, he added.
In April, Hammud said the Russian firm could invest up to $500 million in the port’s expansion.
On Wednesday, however, he said the figure was about $50 million.
Founded in 1991, Stroytransgaz is one of the largest construction companies in Russia. It is 80-percent owned by Kremlin-linked oligarch Gennady Tymchenko.
In 2018, Syria awarded the company a 50-year concession to invest and extract phosphate in the central region of Palmyra.
Backed by Russian air power since 2015, Assad has made great military gains against rebels and jihadists, and the regime now holds up to 60 percent of the country.
Even during the war, Russian companies have invested in Syria’s oil, gas and mining sectors and won contracts to build flour mills and water-pumping stations.