Russia's invasion of Ukraine prompts Syria to cut spending

FILE - In this Sept. 13, 2021 file photo, Russian President Vladimir Putin, right, listens to Syrian President Bashar Assad during their meeting in the Kremlin in Moscow, Russia. The Syrian government decided Thursday, Feb. 24, 2022 to take quick measures to reduce the impact of Russia's military attacks on Ukraine including reducing spending in the next two months to focus on purchases of strategic commodities. (Mikhail Klimentyev, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP, File) (ASSOCIATED PRESS)

DAMASCUS, Syria (AP) — The government of economically-battered Syria decided Thursday to cut spending in an effort to reduce the impact of Russia's invasion of Ukraine, concerned that oil and wheat prices could sharply increase, the state-owned news agency said.

SANA reported that after an extraordinary Cabinet meeting, officials decided to manage reserves of main staples such as wheat, sugar, cooking oil and rice for the next two months, closely watch the distribution of the commodities and ration them.

Syria’s economic minister, Mohammed Samer Khalil, said Crimea offered to export wheat to Syria. He said the Syrian government is considering the offer. SANA said the government also decided to closely monitor the exchange rate and to “ration public spending in a way that only covers priorities during this period.”

Syria, struggling after more than a decade of war, relies mostly on wheat imports from Russia and oil shipments from its other ally, Iran. As Russia pounded Ukraine Thursday, Syrian authorities saw danger signs in rising oil prices on both sides of the Atlantic and wholesale prices jumped for heating oil, wheat and other commodities.

Russia is a main backer of President Bashar Assad’s government and its military intervention in 2015 helped tip the balance of power in his favor. The Syrian government described the attacks on Ukraine as a “military operation by the Russian allies to preserve their national security and stability.”

Russia's war effort turned Syria's government toward managing its own resources. SANA, the state news agency, said the issue was discussed during an extraordinary Cabinet meeting on Thursday about the path forward given the Russian invasion.

The decision came as oil prices on both sides of the Atlantic jumped toward or above $100 per barrel to their highest levels since 2014, up more than 6%.

Syria's conflict that began in March 2011 has left nearly half a million people dead and displaced half the country’s pre-war population of 23 million people. The war has also led to severe shortages in fuel and wheat. The dollar today is worth about 3,600 Syrian pounds compared with 47 pounds at the start of the conflict.

The country's largest oil wells are under the control of U.S.-backed Kurdish-led fighter in the country’s east, depriving the government access to them. The country’s fertile agricultural areas, where wheat is planted, are also out of government control.

Earlier on Thursday, Russia invaded Ukraine, hitting cities and bases with airstrikes or shelling, as civilians piled into trains and cars to flee. Ukraine’s government said Russian tanks and troops rolled across the border in a “full-scale war” that could rewrite the geopolitical order and whose fallout already reverberated around the world.

The Syrian government move came hours after the U.N. warned that 14.6 million people are in need of aid in war-torn Syria, an increase of 1.2 million people compared with last year. The report by the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs was released late Wednesday.

The U.N. and its partners are reaching 7 million people every month, “but more support is required,” tweeted Mark Cutts, the U.N. Deputy Regional Humanitarian Coordinator for the Syria Crisis.