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The Battle for Syria

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Russia Sends Fleet for Possible Syria Evacuations

December 18th 2012

Black Sea fleet

Russia's Defense Ministry is sending a new group of warships to Syria and the commander of the country's Airborne Forces said his troops are ready in the event that it proves necessary to evacuate Russian nationals from the country. The Defense Ministry said on December 18 that ships from the Baltic Fleet would replace vessels from the Black Sea Fleet that are currently in the eastern Mediterranean Sea. Russia's Interfax news agency cited a "source" in the Baltic Fleet as saying the vessels were bound for Syria "to assist in a possible evacuation of Russian citizens." The report could not be confirmed.

But Airborne Forces commander General Vladimir Shamanov said on December 17 that his forces have experience evacuating Russians from "hot spots" and are ready to perform this task if it received presidential orders to do so.

Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov, the Kremlin’s envoy for Middle East affairs, said last week it was possible that Assad’s opponents might win the civil war and that Russia was looking at preparations for a possible evacuation. His comments were an unusually pessimistic view of the conflict by a Russian official, stirring speculation that Moscow is more concerned about Assad’s ability to stay in power than it has admitted in public. Russia’s Foreign Ministry said after Bogdanov’s remarks that it had not changed its policy on Syria, and Russian officials sought to dismiss talk of internal differences over policy. There is a Russian naval maintenance base in the Syrian Mediterranean port of Tartus and about 5,300 Russian citizens registered with Russian consular authorities in the country.

But Bogdanov said the majority of Russians there were not registered. Many are Russian women married to Syrian men, and their children. Interfax quoted Colonel-General Vladimir Shamanov, the head of Russia’s Airborne Defence Troops, as offering his force’s help in any evacuation. “With full responsibility I declare: ‘We are ready’,” he said. “The airborne defence troops have experience of such operations, for example evacuating the embassy in Kabul (during the Soviet intervention in Afghanistan) ... If we get the order from the defence minister or president, we can carry it out.”


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