The support for the US and French-backed resolution 1636 by Syria’s traditional ally Russia is a sign of the increasingly isolated position that Damascus finds itself in. Yet appearances can be deceiving. Behind the scenes, Moscow continues to provide crucial support to Damascus at the UN.

‘Russia played a very important role in reaching the agreement between Syria and the Mehlis commission,’ says Deputy Prime Minister for Economic Affairs Abdullah Dardari. ‘Russia has offered to play the role of the guarantor of this agreement. Had it not been for the Russian contribution, we wouldn’t have reached agreement.’

Moscow’s support is not limited to politics. In January 2005, Moscow wrote off 73 per cent of the $13,400 million debt owed to Russia by Syria. Under the agreement, Moscow cancelled about $9,800 million of debt and restructured the remaining $3,600 million. As a result, Syria will repay $1,500 million over 10 years and retain $2,100 million in the form of a Syrian pound-denominated credit to be used to fund Russian investments in the country.

Russian investments in Syria have also increased significantly. ‘We have just signed two gas contracts with Stroytransgaz – one for the central region gas development project, the other for the Arab gas pipeline project – with a total value of $450 million,’ says Dardari. ‘We are also looking at an offer to set up a petrochemicals complex and oil refinery with a value of $2,400 million.’