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Russian general: "We must protect our citizens."
Russia's Interfax news agency today said preparations are under way to send two warships carrying a host of marines to Syria in order to "protect" citizens and secure the country's naval base there, The Associated Press reported.
Interfax, quoting an unidentified Russian navy official, said the ships were “preparing for a non-routine departure” for the nation's sole Mediterranean base in Tartus, Syria, according to The LA Times. No date was provided.
The move comes two days after the United Nations discontinued its peace mission there due to increasing bloodshed.
More from GlobalPost: UN suspends Syria peace mission due to rising violence
Russian deputy air force chief, Major-General Vladimir Gradusov, told Interfax "[w]e must protect our citizens," adding, "[w]e won't abandon the Russians and will evacuate them from the conflict zone, if necessary," said AP. There are an unknown number of Russians currently working in Syria, reported The LA Times.
The report, which has yet to be officially confirmed by the Kremlin, may signal growing wariness from Moscow toward its former ally, Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad, whose crackdown on ongoing anti-government demonstrations has left at least 10,000 Syrians dead and raised international outcry.
It also comes after a reported delivery of Russian attack helicopters to Syria prompted criticism from Washington, The LA Times reported, with Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton warning that any such delivery would “escalate the conflict quite dramatically.”
More from GlobalPost: Russian helicopters en route to Syria are refurbished, not new
Russia, a veto-welding member of the United Nations Security Council -- which has struggled to take a unified stance on the conflict in Syria -- is a major weapons supplier to Syria.