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Russia sends warships to Syria for possible evacuation of its citizens

Russia has sent five ships to the Mediterranean to prepare for the possible evacuation of its citizens from Syria as rebels advance towards Damascus.

Clone of Syria rebelsEnlarge
Rebel fighters take part in a demonstration against the Syrian regime after the Friday prayer in the al-Fardos neighbourhood of Aleppo on December 7, 2012. Russian officials said for the first time last week that opposition forces may be successful in defeating President Bashar al-Assad. (Odd Andersen/AFP/Getty Images)

Is Russia preparing for an endgame in Syria?

As rebels advance toward the Syrian capital, Damascus, Moscow has dispatched warships to the Mediterranean to prepare for a possible evacuation of thousands of its citizens from the war-torn country, the Associated Press reported.

The Russian Navy has sent five ships — three warships and two support ships of the Russian Baltic Fleet — to the region, RT reported, citing a statement from the Russian Defense Ministry.

“They are heading to the Syrian coast to assist in a possible evacuation of Russian citizens.... Preparations for the deployment were carried out in a hurry and were heavily classified," Russian agency Interfax quoted a naval source as saying.

The move is significant: Russia is Syria’s key supporter and main arms supplier. But in the past week, the Kremlin has appeared to be readying itself for President Bashar al-Assad’s defeat.

Russian deputy foreign minister Mikhail Bogdanov, Moscow’s special envoy for Middle East affairs, said last week President Assad was losing ground and may fall to opposition forces. It was the first time a Russian official had publicly admitted that the Syrian regime may lose the 21-month-old civil war.

The Russian Foreign Ministry quickly contradicted Bogdanov’s statement, saying his words were misinterpreted.

On Monday, insurgents seized the Yarmouk Palestinian camp, just two miles from the heart of Damascus, activists told Reuters, putting the rebels within striking distance of the capital.

The Russian foreign ministry, meanwhile, confirmed Tuesday that two Russian nationals and an Italian citizen working for the Hmisho steel plant in the Syrian city of Latakia were abducted on Monday, The Los Angeles Times reported.

More from GlobalPost: Full coverage of the Syrian conflict