Russia sees the 22-month civil war in Syria turning into a “prolonged” conflict as it started evacuating its citizens from the Middle Eastern country, Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov said.
“At the start there were forecasts that it would last for two or three or four months, and it’s going on already for two years,” Bogdanov told reporters outside Moscow today. “The military and political situation could develop in different ways but we believe it could have a prolonged character.”
Russia is helping its nationals who wish to leave Syria and has prepared contingency plans for the closing of the Russian embassy in Damascus after suspending operations by its consulate in the commercial hub Aleppo, Bogdanov said.
Russia, Syria’s main international backer, has about 30,000 citizens in the country according to state media. Russian authorities today evacuated about 50 Russians who crossed the border with Lebanon on three buses and who will be flown to Moscow, news service RIA Novosti said.
Russia, which has blocked UN sanctions against Syria during the conflict, has a naval base in the Syrian port of Tartus and billions of dollars of arms contracts with the country. After the overthrow of Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein in 2003 and Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi in 2011, Syria is the last major customer for Russian weapons in the region.
The Syrian president inherited power in 2000 from his father, Hafez al-Assad, a Soviet ally who ruled for three decades and received weapons and financial support for the Arab standoff against Israel.