The European Union today renewed its sanctions against the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad for another year. The sanctions — which ban oil imports, certain investments, technology transfer that could aid the regime in repression and freezes Syrian Central Bank assets inside the EU — were first initiated in 2011.
Why it matters: The Trump administration has rallied its allies to keep up sanctions on the Assad regime and not to provide reconstruction money to Damascus after nine years of civil war.
The United States argues that money will be squandered by the mafia-like Assad regime, which Washington suggests should not be rewarded for making war on its own population in response to the 2011 Arab Spring protests.
A combination of war, regime corruption and sanctions have devastated Syria’s economy, and the country’s currency has plummeted to all-time lows. More than 80% of Syrians now live below the poverty line, and a loaf of bread costs some 20 times what it did at the start of the conflict, according to Rim Turkmani, director of the Syria Conflict Research Program at the London School of Economics, who spoke at a Quincy Institute event in Washington earlier this month. The US and EU provide humanitarian aid in regime-controlled areas, though experts say the informal war economy has only worsened corruption.
What’s next: Whether international sanctions have any enduring political effect on the regime remains to be seen. The United States and the EU continue to invoke UN Security Council Resolution 2254, which calls for a peaceful transfer of power in Syria, a negotiated settlement to the war and free and fair elections. But US officials admit Russia’s successful military support for Assad means he likely won’t be stepping down anytime soon.
Still, the Trump administration shows no sign of changing course. State Department officials have cited Assad’s recent consolidation of power over his cousin, business magnate Rami Makhlouf, as reason for cautious optimism that their strategy may be working. As US Syria envoy James Jeffrey said earlier this month, “It’s very hard to assess where this is going.”
Know more: Anton Mardasov breaks down what Vladimir Putin’s recent appointment of Russia’s first special envoy for relations with Damascus means for the two countries going forward.