With Syria’s turmoil rising, Russia moves to evacuate 100

Increasingly, Assad viewed as losing control; rebel coalition struggles to start governing system

MOSCOW — Russia said Monday it was sending two airplanes from its emergency services fleet to Beirut to evacuate about 100 Russian citizens from Syria, reflecting Moscow’s assessment that President Bashar Assad’s forces are losing control of the country after nearly two years of fighting.

It was not clear whether the news signaled the beginning of a large-scale evacuation. Russia has an estimated 30,000 citizens in Syria, including government and military personnel, private contractors, and tens of thousands of women married to Syrian men.

About a dozen Russian ships are in the Mediterranean off Syria for naval exercises and could, officials have said, be used to evacuate Russian citizens.


Irina Rossius, a spokeswoman for Russia’s Emergency Services Ministry, said two airplanes would fly to Beirut on Tuesday ‘‘so that all Russians who wish to can leave Syria,’’ Interfax reported.

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She said more than 100 Russians are expected to leave. It is now common for people leaving Damascus, if they can afford it, to avoid the contested route to the city’s airport by driving to Beirut and flying out from there.

Rossius did not say which group was evacuating, but conditions have been deteriorating for diplomats. Last week, Russia announced that it was closing its consulate in Aleppo following a double bombing that killed 82 people, and security officials told the newspaper Kommersant last month that the authorities were prepared to send 100 armed intelligence officers to help Russian diplomats leave Damascus if necessary.

Russian arms manufacturers also have military advisers in place to assist the Syrian military with air-defense systems purchased from Russia.

Russia first formulated plans for an evacuation seven months ago but delayed putting them into action — in part, analysts said, because it would send a political message that Moscow no longer considered it likely that Assad would prevail. But Foreign Ministry officials are increasingly concerned about security and have been quietly trying to negotiate the release of two Russian steelworkers kidnapped last month.


The conflict continued to rage Monday, with the government accusing rebels of attacking an important power line, causing a blackout in Damascus, the capital, as well as areas to the north and a swath of territory reaching south to Jordan.

Power failures have been frequent reminders of the conflict that has engulfed Syria, but the latest one appeared to be the first to affect the entire capital, where Assad’s forces are still largely in control.

The Associated Press reported that power was restored in parts of Damascus on Monday.

In Istanbul, the main exile opposition group once again failed to form a transitional government, deciding instead to postpone the step while new proposals are drawn up. The delay was a setback to the opposition’s plans to fill the power vacuum created by the ever bloodier civil war.

The opposition group, the National Coalition of Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces, has won recognition by a number of foreign countries as the sole legitimate representative of the Syrian people, but it has not yet solidified support among rebels fighting on the ground. Nor has it begun planning for a post-Assad future.


The Western and Arab nations that pressed Assad’s adversaries to reorganize last year have been urging the new coalition to select a prime minister, but no candidate has won a consensus.

Power failures have been frequent reminders of the conflict that has engulfed Syria, but the latest one appeared to be the first to affect the entire capital.

A statement by the National Coalition on Monday said it had formed a five-member committee to ‘‘lead consultations’’ with rebel commanders, foreign backers, and others seeking Assad’s ouster, and to draw up proposals for a transitional government within 10 days. The statement was similar to one the coalition made last month, after failing to form a government at a meeting in Cairo.

The talks over a transitional government were bogged down by a heated debate over a provision in the coalition’s bylaws banning its members from assuming ministerial posts in any future interim government, in an effort to protect the coalition from accusations that its members are merely seeking personal power. Some opposition leaders want to scrap that provision, arguing that it will deny the interim government the benefit of including experienced and respected senior figures, but they met with strong resistance.

‘‘The idea faced an immediate storm of objections and criticism,’’ said Samir Nachar, a member of the Syrian National Coalition. ‘‘We saw that during the meeting, and decided not to change anything.’’

Nachar said the main reason the opposition has failed to shape a transitional government so far is that it is not sure such a government would receive the international recognition and support it would need to function.

‘‘Falling into the trap of forming a paralyzed government will not just be useless, it will be a huge disappointment to Syrians,’’ he said. ‘‘The coalition was promised a lot when it was formed, and none of that materialized.’’

The coalition announced that it was sending $250,000 in emergency aid to Daraya, a Damascus suburb that has been hit hard recently with artillery and airstrikes, and forming committees to aid refugees and the wounded and to coordinate with armed opposition groups inside Syria.

The coalition has been under pressure to show that it can offer real help to Syrians inside the country.