Russia Claims U.S. Will Smuggle $30 Million of Oil Out of Syria Every Month Under Trump's 'Criminal' Plan

Russia's foreign ministry spokesperson has accused the U.S. of "criminal activity" with regards to President Donald Trump's plan to deploy troops to guard oil fields in eastern Syria.

Maria Zakharova said Friday that the Trump administration was engaging in illegal smuggling, and estimated Washington stands to make tens of millions of dollars every month from the oil extracted in the region.

According to state news agency Tass, Zakharova said the U.S. was "bypassing its own sanctions" to take the oil—"worth over $30 million per month"—from Syria. She also suggested the U.S. forces deployed "are not going to leave these areas in the near future."

Defense Secretary Mark Esper confirmed last month that U.S. troops supported by armored vehicles would be deployed to guard the oil fields. Officially, the purpose of the mission is to stop the resources falling back into the hands of remaining Islamic State militants, but Trump has said he would like to bring in U.S. energy companies to work the fields.

With Trump's abrupt withdrawal of U.S. troops from northeastern Syria last month, Russia has emerged as the power broker in the country.

The Kremlin is backing President Bashar al-Assad, and both Moscow and Damascus have said they will accept nothing less than the full reunification of the country, ravaged by eight years of civil war.

America's sudden abdication of its influential position in the east of the country handed Assad and Russian President Vladimir Putin a welcome win, but Trump's decision to leave some troops behind has rankled both nations.

Zakharova said the international community has a right to question America's strategy. She characterized the 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."

All the while, she added, the U.S. "systematically declares its commitment to some democratic values and international law."

Though Syria is home to significant oil deposits, the wealth there does not compare to other regional nations like Iraq or Saudi Arabia. And after several years of fighting—which has included extensive aerial bombing campaigns from Russia and the U.S.-led Western coalition—Syria's oil industry is in a bad way.

According to Bloomberg, Syria was able to extract some 24,000 barrels a day last year, worth around $1.5 million by current prices. Production has fallen by more than 90 percent thanks to the war and resulting sanctions.

Donald Trump, Syria, Oil, Russia, smuggling
A U.S. armoured vehicle drives past a billboard for the Syrian Kurdish Women's Protection Units 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