Russians leaving Syria by road

RUSSIA said it would land two planes in Lebanon on Tuesday to evacuate more than 100 of its citizens from Syria in a significant blow to the credibility of President Bashar al-Assad’s regime.

Giving only the barest details, the Russian emergency situations ministry said it was responding to a request from the country’s leaders.

The evacuees are likely to include staff from the embassy in Damascus, where fighting between government forces and the rebels was reported near to the old city on Monday. Others are likely to be staff from Russian companies.

Russia’s foreign ministry began laying contingency plans for evacuating thousands of its citizens last month, sending a group of five ships, including two assault ships, a tanker and an escort vessel, from a Baltic Sea port to the Mediterranean.

Russia’s foreign ministry has said that 5300 Russians are registered with its embassy in Damascus, but the total number in the country is thought to be closer to 30,000. Most of them are the Russian wives and children of Syrian nationals – a legacy of Cold War and post-Soviet ties – but there are also engineers, officials and military specialists.

Last week Moscow suspended operations at its consulate in Syria’s commercial city of Aleppo after a bomb at the university killed more than 80 people.

Along with Iran, Russia has been the main ally of Dr Assad since the start of the conflict in March 2011. It has remained his biggest arms supplier and has maintained a small naval base on Syria’s Mediterranean coast at Tartus. Moscow has routinely used its veto at the United Nations Security Council to shield Dr Assad’s regime from sanctions.

In recent weeks, its support has slipped, with a senior minister admitting that the rebels might triumph.


Full article: Russians leaving Syria by road (The Sydney Morning Herald)

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