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Russia starts evacuating its citizens from Syria

The Russian government is sending planes to Beirut to evacuate Russians who want to leave Syria.

Russia president vladimir putin in turkey syriaEnlarge
Russian President Viladimir Putin listens on December 3, 2012, during a press conference with the Turkish prime minister in Istanbul. Putin met with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan for talks about Syria and how to deal with a conflict that has claimed around 41,000 lives since March 2011. (BULENT KILIC/AFP/Getty Images)

The Kremlin has announced it will send two planes to Beirut on Tuesday to pick up Russians who want to flee Syria, reports the Guardian. 

“On orders from the leadership of the Russian Federation, the Emergency Situations Ministry is sending two planes ... to Beirut so that all Russians wishing to leave Syria could leave,” the ministry’s spokesperson, Irina Rossius, told the RIA-Novosti news agency.

Monday's announcement is nothing close to a full withdrawal but it appears to reflect Moscow's growing concerns about Assad's ability to remain in power, and about the safety of Russian citizens, reports the Los Angeles Times. 

“It is no secret that there is a whole number of Russians who are willing to leave Syria in the face of all the violence going on in that country,” Igor Korotchenko, editor in chief of the monthly journal National Defense, told the LA Times.

“Regular passenger flights from Damascus are expensive and this is a goodwill measure on the part of the Russian government to evacuate those people, mostly women and children."

He added: “This shouldn’t be regarded as the full evacuation campaign yet. ... The real evacuation, when it happens, will have to embrace thousands of people.”

Russia's Foreign Ministry has said that it has contingency plans in place to evacuate the estimated 30,000 to 60,000 Russian nationals living in Syria. 

Russia has been a staunch ally of Syrian President Bashar Assad and has used its veto power at the United Nations to prevent sanctions from being imposed, reports AP. 

http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/regions/middle-east/syria/130121/russia-starts-evacuating-its-citizens-syria