MOSCOW, February 19 (RIA Novosti) – Two Russian Emergencies Ministry planes will deliver humanitarian aid to Syria on Tuesday and evacuate Russians and nationals of former Soviet republics from the war-stricken Middle East country, an Emergencies Ministry official said.
“Il-62 and Il-76 airplanes have taken off for Latakia [eastern Syria],” the official said, adding the planes would return witn evacuees later in the day.
The planes are carrying around 46 tons of humanitarian aid, including tents and power generators.
Meanwhile, Russian naval vessels in the Mediterranean are also standing by to evacuate Russian nationals if necessary, with an additional four large landing ships also expected to arrive in the area soon, a military source told RIA Novosti.
"The main task of the Russian naval forces will be participation in a possible evacuation of Russian citizens from Syria," the source said.
There was no information available on how many Russian nationals were waiting to travel back to Moscow on Tuesday.
The Russian embassy in Syria estimated there were some 30,000 Russians living in the country, but other reports suggest the figure could be much higher.
Two Emergencies Ministry planes brought 77 Russians back from Syria at the end of January. Russian officials denied the move was an indication that Moscow had changed its stance on Syria, its sole remaining ally in the Arab world.
Russia – along with China – has faced widespread condemnation over its refusal to approve UN sanctions against the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, whose forces the international community has accused of widespread human rights abuses. However, Moscow has repeatedly stated it has no interest in seeing Assad remain in power, but is concerned that unilateral sanctions would create a power vacuum that would lead to more violence.
At least 60,000 people have died in Syria since the start of the uprising against Assad in March 2011, according to UN figures.