Trump's Syrian Oil Deployment 'Tantamount to Robbery,' Russia Says

Russia's foreign minister has declared President Donald Trump's deployment of troops to Syrian oil fields "illegal" and warned it does not bode well for the future of the war-torn nation.

Speaking to reporters on Monday, Segrei Lavrov said Trump's plan was "tantamount to robbery," the state-backed Tass news agency reported.

Some 600 U.S. troops are now expected to be deployed to protect oil fields in eastern Syria, supported by armored vehicles. Joint Chiefs Chairman General Mark Milley said Saturday the soldiers would remain indefinitely so as to help prevent the resurgence of the Islamic State militant group (ISIS).

The U.S. had some 1,000 troops in northeastern Syria until last month, when Trump abruptly decided to withdraw the forces from their bases near the Turkish border. This left America's Kurdish-led allies—the Syrian Democratic Forces—alone to face a Turkish invasion.

The SDF was forced to turn to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and his Russian backers for help, handing over significant areas, cities and bases the SDF had won back from ISIS control with the help of the Western coalition.

As U.S. forces retreated into Iraq, reports indicated Trump was considering leaving some soldiers behind to guard the eastern oil fields. The president then confirmed the plan.

US soldier, Syria, oil, Russia, ISIS
A U.S. soldier sits atop an armoured vehicle during a patrol of the Syrian northeastern town of Qahtaniyah at the border with Turkey, on October 31, 2019. DELIL SOULEIMAN/AFP via Getty Images/Getty

Though the Pentagon has stressed that the reason for the deployment is to continue anti-ISIS operations—which were upended by Trump's sudden withdrawal and the subsequent Turkish assault—the president has been quite open about his fixation on the oil there.

Last month, Trump told reporters he even wanted to bring in Exxon Mobil or another American company to work the oil fields. The president said he wanted a U.S. firm to "go in there and do it properly...and spread out the wealth."

Lavrov is the latest Russian diplomat to condemn the plan. "Of course, its attempt to put oil fields there under control is illegal. In fact, it's tantamount to robbery," Lavrov explained.

"It spells nothing good for the Syrian settlement. It merely preserves a major annoyance in that part of the country."

Earlier this month, Foreign Ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharova claimed that the U.S. would be able to "smuggle" $30 million worth of oil from the Syrian fields every month.

She characterized Trump's troop deployment as the U.S. "pumping oil out of the northeast of Syria" while it "masks its criminal activity by some pretexts of a struggle against the Islamic State."

Syria is home to significant oil deposits, though the total amount is nowhere close to regional oil producing giants like Saudi Arabia and Iraq. The country's oil infrastructure has been ravaged by almost eight years of war, cutting its production capabilities by some 90 percent, according to Bloomberg.

Last year, the country was able to extract around 24,000 barrels of crude oil each day, worth around $1.5 million by current prices.