August 6, 1957 – The USSR and Syria Reach an Agreement


Syrian Defense Minister Khalid al-Azm with Chief of Staff Afif al-Bizreh, 1957

On August 6, 1957, a Syrian delegation led by Minister of State and National Defense Khalid al-Azm and a Soviet delegation led by Deputy Chairman of the Council of Ministers Iosif Kuzmin reached an economic (and possibly military) aid agreement.  According to The United States and Arab Nationalism: The Syrian Case, 1953-1960, by Bonnie F. Saunders, the agreement included $570 million in Soviet bloc credits for weapons which Syria would pay for with future grain production.  President Eisenhower and the United States’ government were deeply concerned about the increasing influence of the USSR on the Arab nation.  “The Soviet Union had already given Syria about $60 million worth of military aid in 1956,” Saunders writes.  “Early in 1957, rumors about even greater Soviet military penetration into Syria circulated in London and Washington.  Supposedly, hundreds of Soviet technicians and military personnel were busy setting up and manning Soviet air and naval bases in Syria.  The Soviet Union was ostensibly providing the Syrian army with huge numbers of new Soviet weapons, furnishing the Syrian air force with two dozen sophisticated MiG jets and Soviet trainers, and creating a small Syrian navy armed with Soviet-built ships.”

A joint communique regarding the agreement was published on August 6, 1957, according to From Encroachment to Involvement: A Documentary Study of Soviet Policy in the Middle East, 1945-1973, by Yaacov Ro’i. Ro’i reprints the communique, signed by Azm and Kuzmin,  in his book.  It stressed the friendly, frank exchange between the delegations, the sympathy of the USSR for Syria’s efforts to escape colonialism, and the desire of the USSR to participate in the economic development of the Arab nation.  The USSR promised support in the areas of railroad and road construction, irrigation, hydroelectric stations, geological prospecting, research, and industrial plants.  The Soviets would supply specialists, equipment and materials.  Credit would be granted to Syria, in an amount to be determined, “without any conditions of a political or analogous nature, on a basis of equality and reciprocal economic advantage, of non-interference in internal affairs and complete respect for the national dignity and sovereignty of the Syrian Republic.”  The Soviet Union hoped to purchase grain, cotton, and other commodities, and both countries believed the amount of potential trade between the nations had yet to be fully exploited.  According to the communique, delegation visits and discussions would continue.

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  1. The name of the Army Chief of Staff is Afif Al-Bizri – not Bizreh.
    He was born in Seida, Lebanon, to the well-known Bizri family, so did his brothers and sisters.

    One of his brothers was my father, Brigadier-General Salah Al-Bizri, the commander of the Popular Resistance corps in Syria.

    Afif died in 2001. Salah, older than Afif, died in 1993.

    1. Thank you, Khaled, for the correction and the further history of your uncle and father. As I was researching this post, I found several variant spellings for your family name. I’m not sure what to say that won’t sound trite, but the people of Syria are very much on my mind now. My heart goes out to your nation. Jenny

    2. This correction is true. The two officers mentioned were recognised patriots of Syria. Their offspring, Dr Omar and Dr Khalid, are staunch defenders of the land and its people. May they live long, and mercy be upon their father Salah and Uncle <afif, the latter having written a seminal book on President Nasser of Egypt and his dictatorship, titled "Nasserism in the Context of World Imperialism".

  2. It was indeed the beginning of a committed, if sometimes rocky, friendship. By the late 1980s, Syria was the biggest buyer of Soviet weapons outside of the Warsaw Pact. Post-2005, Russia and Syria seem to be re-establishing their once-strategic relationship. I doubt it will ever be the same but the present rhetoric is certainly reminiscent of the old times.

    If you are interested in the Moscow-Damascus cooperation since 1957, I would recommend:

    – Breslauer, George W. (ed.) Soviet strategy in the Middle East. Boston: Unwin Hyman, 1990.

    – Dawisha, Adeed and Karen Dawisha (eds.) The Soviet Union in the Middle East: policies and perspectives. London: Published by Holmes & Meier Publishers for the Royal Institute of International Affairs, 1982.

    – Freedman, Robert Owen. Soviet policy toward the Middle East since 1970, 2nd ed. New York: Praeger, 1978.

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