Syria's latest ally: Venezuela. President Hugo Chávez is sending diesel fuel to Syria in order to help Bashar al-Assad sidestep those pesky sanctions, the Wall Street Journal reports. And the fuel is a big deal: It's powering the tanks and vehicles currently bearing down on rebels in the country; one activist calls it "the lifeblood of the killing regime." Venezuela's state oil company, Petróleos de Venezuela SA or PdVSA, is about to send the fourth major diesel shipment to Syria in eight months—and the publicly acknowledged deals come packaged with other benefits, like protecting Syria's foreign-exchange reserves.
There are big bucks involved: Before the sanctions, Syria relied mainly on Europe for diesel, getting just $6 million worth from Venezuela in 2010; estimates now place the shipments in the hundreds of millions of dollars. Venezuela is also doing business with blacklisted Syrian companies, documents show, among them the Commercial Bank of Syria. Chávez has defended his actions, saying he wants to build an "anti-imperial" group of allies against American hegemony. Currently, there's nothing the US can do to stop Venezuela, though lawmakers are writing legislation that could help.