Russia evacuating its citizens from Syria: A political turning point?
January 23, 2013 4 Comments
By JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
In a move that surprised observers, the government of Russia began on Tuesday to evacuate its citizens from Syria. Late on Tuesday afternoon, four chartered busses carrying nearly a hundred Russians, mostly women and children, arrived at the Jdaidet Yabous border crossing, which links Syria with Lebanon. As soon as they stepped on Lebanese soil in Masnaa, which is located five miles west of Jdaidet Yabous, the evacuees were met by an official from the Russian embassy in Beirut, who had been waiting for them for several hours. Russian officials dismissed rumors that this is the beginning of a mass evacuation of Russian citizens from Syria. But international observers described this development as “the strongest indication yet” that Moscow is acknowledging the eventual collapse of the regime in Damascus. Russia has persisted in its role as the strongest international backer of the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad since 2011, when the Syrian uprising against his government began. But many view the Kremlin’s move to evacuate some of its citizens as “a turning point in its view of the civil war” in the Middle Eastern country. According to reports by the Associated Press, the Russians onboard the buses, which had been chartered by the Russian government, appeared to have been briefed to avoid contact with the press at the border crossing. Many covered the bus windows closest to them with curtains so as not to be photographed by journalists, and most refused to speak with press crews. The few who spoke publicly said without exception that they were simply traveling to Russia “to visit relatives”. The evacuees were taken to Beirut, where they have been scheduled to board two airplanes chartered by the Russian government, headed for Moscow. If this is indeed the beginning of a mass evacuation of Russian citizens from Syria, then many more chartered buses should be expected to cross into Lebanon at the Masnaa border station in the months to come. Tens of thousands of Russians are believed to live in Syria. The Associated Press spoke to Russian military analyst Alexander Golts, who said that a successful evacuation of thousands of Russians from Syria would require the presence of Russian troops on the ground and would probably involve evacuation routes by air, sea and land. So far, however, Russian diplomats insist that no evacuation is in the works. An official from the Russian embassy in Beirut told Agence France Presse on Tuesday that the four busses were chartered to transport the nearly 100 Russian citizens after they expressed “their personal desire to leave Syria”.