Syria: Russia evacuates nationals, remains close to Assad

In spite of Moscow's signs of detente towards opposition

25 January, 15:18

(ANSAmed) - BEIRUT, JANUARY 25 - Two airplanes were sent from Moscow to Beirut in the past few days to evacuate from Syria dozens of Russian nationals - mostly women and children - in a move which could indicate that Russia is preparing for the fall of the regime in Damascus. However, a number of signs also show that Russian President Vladimir Putin is unlikely to abandon Bashar al-Assad to his fate, though he is engaged in finding a political solution to the conflict.

Overall, 77 people have been evacuated, many of them mixed families formed by Russian women who married a Syrian, with their children. The number of Russians registered as Syrian residents is significantly higher - 5,300 people. Moscow's First Deputy Foreign Minister Andrey Denisov has stressed that for the moment there will be no large-scale evacuations.

Moscow, which has in Syria an important air base in Palmyra and its only navy base in the Mediterranean in Tartus, is preparing for a long conflict with an uncertain outcome. 'I think the conflict can last for long', said Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov.

Putin has blamed the West for the situation in an attack bringing to mind the Cold War. The revolts in Syria and Libya, said the president, are due to the political ambitions of NATO countries in North Africa and the Middle East and have destabilized the geo-political situation in the region contributing to the 'tragic toll' of the terror attack on the gas plant of In Amenas in Algeria. These statements reveal Moscow's fear for interests in the area after a decade which saw its influence dramatically reduced first with the Anglo-American intervention in Iraq and then with the toppling of Gaddafi's regime in Libya.

This however has not prevented Moscow from launching signs of detente in the Syrian crisis. At the end of December, Russian diplomats proposed negotiations to the Syrian National Coalition President Ahmad Muaz al Khatib who, however, rejected the invitation. 'We have clearly said that we will not go to Moscow' stressed Al Khatib. 'We could meet in an Arab country but only if there will be a clear agenda'.

Moreover, between the end of November and beginning of December, according to the New York Times, Russia had a key role in dissuading Assad from using chemical weapons against rebels.

In exchange, according to Israeli daily Haaretz, the US vowed not to intervene militarily in Syria.

However Moscow is not showing signs that it intends to bow to the opposition's key condition to start a peace process which is that Assad step down. Russian Foreign Minister Serghei Lavrov has slammed the proposal as 'an obsession' of the anti-regime front. And Assad publicly 'thanked' Russia as well as China and Iran for their support during a televised speech on January 6.

(ANSAmed)
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