In the early part of August 2017, Reuters claimed that at least 40 Russian MoD and Private Military Companies (PMCs) servicemen have been killed in Syria so far this year alone.
At least 21 of them, according to Reuters, worked in PMCs linked with Russia.
The official Russian response: “One should rely on official data published by the Ministry of Defense. If there are Russian citizens in Syria as volunteers, they have nothing to do with the state.”
Shortly after the Reuters report, a novel version of the causes of the majority of Russian losses in Syria appeared in the Russian media by an author writing under the pseudonym of “Mikaprok”, who referred to this theory as anecdotal, but worthy of consideration.
The thrust of the article is that the killed PMC servicemen performed gas pipeline construction security duties. Some of this information has been verified and up-to-dated by SouthFront, while the remainder is at best a hypothesis.
In early June 2017, Russia-based Stroytransgaz Logistics, which is owned by Stroystrangaz and Gennadiy Timchenko, returned to Syria. They officially declare about their engagement in a project to restore Syria’s largest phosphate mining operation near Palmyra.
OAO Stroystrangaz is a Russian oil and gas engineering and construction company. Founded in 1990, it was originally a subsidiary of Gazprom, though now it is controlled by Gennadiy Timchenko through his Volga Group SICAV SIF SA fund.
Gennady Timchenko is a Russian businessman and billionaire. He founded and owns the private investment group, Volga Group, which specializes in investments in energy, transport and infrastructure.
The contract with Stroytransgaz was signed by the Syrian authorities on December 9, 2016. However, the work went slowly.
In March 2016 it was reported that the Syrian troops had established control over the mines, but in December ISIS returned to the region. It was possible to resume the work only in May 2017.
Stroytransgaz and the Ministry of Natural Resources of Syria have a long-term partnership. Before the war in Syria began, the Russian company had built a gas refinery plant in Syria and a gas pipeline. Now in the vicinity of the city of Raqqah the company is building a second stage of another gas refinery plant with a capacity of 1.3 billion cubic meters per year. The first stage of this enterprise was introduced in November 2014.
According to Turkish media, the Syrian government already manages at least three oil fields in the Hasakah Province, in the territory controlled by the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF). According to media reports, the SDF receives 20% of the profit for ensuring the safety of the fields.
So there are good grounds and opportunities for Russian companies building and operating oil and gas infrastructure.
Also according to unconfirmed information, one more Russian company, SoyuzNefteGaz, has resumed its operations in Syria. A chairman of the board of SoyuzNefteGaz, Yuri Shafranik, reportedly signed agreements to conduct exploration work on the Mediterranean coast of Syria in 2013. The company invested about $ 90 million in research activities over the next 2 years.
Soyuzneftegaz is a Russian oil and gas company. It is headed by Russia’s former energy minister Yuri Shafranik. The Interstate Bank of the CIS holds 30% and SNG Holding holds 70% of shares.
In October 2004 Soyuzneftegaz won a tender in Syria for the onshore Blocks 12 and 14 near Iraqi border. In 2006, the company decided not to continue with the development of Block 14, but continued work on Block 12. In 2005, Soyuzneftegaz acquired a 50% working interest in Block 26 in the northeast of Syria through its wholly owned subsidiary SNG Overseas. On 25 December 2013, Soyuzneftegaz signed a 25-year agreement to prospect for more oil in Syria. The company stopped its operations in Syria in 2015 because of the war.
Earlier in 2010, this very area between Tartus and Banias was thoroughly investigated by CGGVeritas which estimated there the presence of 122 TCF of natural gas. Presumably this is the third largest undeveloped deposit in the world.
CGGVeritas Services SA provides geophysical services such as data acquisition, supervision, and logistical support for the seismic operations of the oil and gas industry. In addition, the company provides technical support, maintenance, and design services for the multi-streamer vessels. CGGVeritas Services SA was formerly known as CGG Services SA and changed its name to CGGVeritas Services SA in February 2011. The company was incorporated in 1996 and is based in Massy, France. As of December 22, 2000, CGGVeritas Services SA operates as a subsidiary of CGG.
Nearly all major European players, such as Eni, Shell and Total, participated in the project during 2011-2013. Total played a role as a link between StroyNefteGaz and Shell.
However, active fighting soon broke out in the region, so, in 2015, according to Yuri Shafranik quoted by Bloomberg, “SoyuzNefteGaz” stopped its work on the development of deposits.
«Mikaprok» in his article assumes that since the spring of 2017 the work on development of deposits had been resumed. At the same time, there is a requirement to protect and control the massive territory of the Raqqa-Latakia-Tartus area. That is why Russian PMCs have been widely involved, leading to such distribution of total Russian losses in Syria from the beginning of the year.
Meanwhile the forces loyal to the Syrian government are conducting a large-scale operation against ISIS in the central Syria. The expulsion of terrorists from the area north of the highway connecting the cities of Palmyra and Homs and other areas, will ensure security at numerous deposits in the vicinity of Palmyra and Raqqa.
The recent air assault operation by government forces in the area with the official assistance of Russian advisers also suggests that Moscow is interested to gain control over this territory as soon as possible.