At least 77 Russian citizens evacuated from war-torn Syria have returned to Russia. The Kremlin remains a staunch ally of the Syrian government and says it is not conducting a mass evacuation.
The Russian citizens were taken out of Syria by bus to Beirut, Lebanon, and boarded two planes provided by Russia’s Emergencies Ministry.
The planes arrived at Moscow’s Domodedovo airport early Wednesday morning.
Albert Alamart was on one of the planes.
He says the situation isn’t very calm and that fighting is going on in Syria. He says he and his family were given the opportunity to leave and they did.
Russian officials have refused to say why the evacuees were flown out from Lebanon instead of from Syria, but the main international airport outside Damascus has been largely devoid of traffic in recent weeks due to fighting along the road to the capital.
Tens of thousands of Russian citizens live in Syria; many are employed by Russia’s state-run arms exporting company.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov says about 1,000 of the Russians in Syria have asked to be evacuated, but the Kremlin is not conducting a mass evacuation.
He says, "We haven’t started a mass evacuation, it would be difficult."
Lavrov said non-essential employees from Russia's embassy in Damascus have been removed, along with the families of diplomats. It was the Kremlin's first such acknowledgement.
Despite this, Lavrov said the Russian embassy in Damascus continues to operate in full.
Russia has blocked three rounds of U.N. Security Council sanctions against its Middle Eastern ally. The Kremlin maintains it is not the job of the Security Council to force the ouster of any government and that dialogue with both sides of the Syrian conflict is necessary for peace.