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Moscow to start evacuating Russians from Syria

MOSCOW (AP) — Russia is sending two planes to Lebanon to evacuate Russians from Syria, the government said Monday, a move that suggests Moscow is growing doubtful that Syrian President Bashar Assad can cling to power in the face of an armed uprising.

The Emergency Situations Ministry said two of its planes were scheduled to fly to Beirut on Tuesday to carry more than 100 Russians from Syria.

Russia has been the main ally of Assad since the start of the conflict in the Arab state in March 2011, using its veto power at the United Nations Security Council to shield Damascus from international sanctions.

But it has recently begun to distance itself from the Syrian ruler, signaling it is resigned to him losing power.

Russia's Foreign Ministry has said that it has contingency plans in place to evacuate thousands of Russians from Syria. Russian officials said both planes and sea vessels could be used in the effort.

A squadron of Russian Navy ships is currently in the Mediterranean for a planned exercise near Syrian shores later this month. Military officials earlier said that the exercise will simulate both the landing of marines and taking people on board from the shore.

Russia's naval base in the Syrian port of Tartus is the only such facility it has outside the former Soviet Union.

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