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Flight Records Say Russia Sent Syria Tons of Cash

Dafna Linzer, Jeff Larson and Michael Grabell
Pro Publica / News Report
Published: Monday 26 November 2012
“The regime of Bashar al-Assad is increasingly in need of cash to stay afloat and continue financing the military’s efforts to crush the uprising.”
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This past summer, as the Syrian economy began to unravel and the military pressed hard against an armed rebellion, a Syrian government plane ferried what flight records describe as more than 200 tons of “bank notes” from Moscow.

The records of overflight requests were obtained by ProPublica. The flights occurred during a period of escalating violence in a conflict that has left tens of thousands of people dead since fighting broke out in March 2011.

The regime of Bashar al-Assad is increasingly in need of cash to stay afloat and continue financing the military’s efforts to crush the uprising. U.S. and European sanctions, including a ban on minting Syrian currency, have damaged the country’s economy. As a result, Syria lost access to an Austrian bank that had printed its bank notes.

“Having currency that you can put into circulation is certainly something that is important in terms of running an economy and more so in an economy that is become more cash-based as things deteriorate,” said Daniel Glaser, Assistant Secretary of the Treasury for Terrorist Financing and Financial Crimes.  “It is certainly something the Syrian government wants to do, to pay soldiers or pay anybody anything."

According to the flight records, which are in English and Farsi, eight round-trip flights between Damascus International Airport and Moscow’s Vnukovo Airport each carried 30 tons of bank notes back to Syria.

Syrian and Russian officials did not respond to ProPublica's questions about the authenticity and accuracy of the flight records. It is not possible to know whether the logs accurately described the cargo or what else might have been on board the flights. Nor do the logs specify the type of currency.

But ProPublica confirmed nearly all of the flights took place through international plane-tracking services, photos by aviation enthusiasts, and air traffic control recordings. 

Each time the manifest listed “Bank Notes” as its cargo, the plane traveled a circuitous route. Instead of flying directly over Turkish airspace, as civilian planes have, the Ilyushin-76 cargo plane, operated by the Syrian Air Force, avoided Turkey and flew over Iraq, Iran, and Azerbaijan.

ABOUT Dafna Linzer

Dafna Linzer’s coverage on Guantanamo and military detentions during the Obama Presidency won the prized 2010 Overseas Press Club award for General Excellence. She has also been honored by the American Bar Association’s Silver Gavel award.

France and GB have already

France and GB have already recognised the Syrian Rebels as the government of Syria. They are getting their weapons from that well known Middle East democracy Saudia Arabia. The have done so, not because they believe in democracy, but because they can sell their weapons to Saudi Arabia. They have no interest in the fate of the Christians of Syria or other minorities after the fundamentalists take over, and neither apparently do either of your previous commentators.

No worries for Obama fans.

No worries for Obama fans. Everyone who has followed Mideast news for the past years - and these may even include a couple of stray White House policy wonks who don't deliberately blindfold themselves - knows that the Russians and Iranians have long and actively been in there pitching for Assad.

Meanwhile, Obama (1) wrung his hands in studied helplessness, as he likes to do when confronted with real tyranny, as in Teheran in 2009, (2) said that Assad should go, and (3) asked the Russians to help calm him down.

In effect the Obama actions and policies in regard Syria and the Mideast are trying as hard as possible to undercut the USA's own influence there, so that the Mideast and its peoples can and will be left to the tender mercies of local tyrants, Islamo-nazis, and the machinations of formerly second-rate powers - a status to which good Obamites believe the USA is morally obliged to reduce itself.

Thank you for publishing this

Thank you for publishing this article, which I have just read in Sydney, Australia. It is deeply troubling. My educated guess is that our national tv provider, the ABC, will say something about this; but it's not clear when. I intend to email the article to the Leader of our Federal Opposition, who knows me. We worked in the same office some of a national think tank years ago, he on Government and Politics, me on Education, Literacy, Civics, and the Rule of Law.

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ABOUT Jeff Larson

Jeff Larson was the Online Director at The Nation where he coordinated the magazine's editorial and business activities on the web during the 2009 political season. Previously, he worked at W.W. Norton and as a film and video editor at an Emmy award winning production company.

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