MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russia considered evacuating military personnel from Syria this summer but decided the situation was stable enough not to warrant the move, the Interfax news agency reported on Tuesday, citing a military source.
Any such evacuation could signal the Kremlin feared Syrian President Bashar al-Assad was in danger of falling to rebels fighting to oust him. The violence has killed 20,000 people since a crackdown on street protests began in March 2011.
The Interfax report indicated Moscow has no immediate plans to abandon a supply and maintenance base in the Mediterranean port of Tartous that is Russia’s only naval facility outside the former Soviet Union.
“Plans for a long-distance mission by a detachment of Russian navy ships foresaw the possibility of evacuating Russian specialists from Syria,” Interfax quoted the unnamed source in Russia’s armed forces general staff as saying.
The evacuation plan was meant to be carried out if the situation in Syria turned critical, the source said. But analysts at the General Staff determined that the situation was sufficiently stable and the naval facility was not under threat.
During the mission, the source was quoted as saying, large landing ships docked in early August at the supply maintenance facility in Tartous where they fuelled up and took on supplies but “did not take any personnel or equipment on board.”
According to Interfax, the Tartous facility consists of two floating docks, two storage sheds, a barracks and a handful of other buildings on shore, as well a repair ship that is rotated out every six months, and about 50 naval personnel.
The report did not specify whether the plans for a possible evacuation included the withdrawal of a small number of “military specialists” Russia has said were in Syria to assist the government under bilateral arms contracts.
Writing by Steve Gutterman; Editing by Mark Heinrich