While still behind Bashar Assad, Moscow is perfectly willing to use his troubles to feather its own nest. This explains the apparent contradiction between the dispatch of top-line Russian Iskander (NATO codenamed SS-26) missiles to help Assad’s army stamp out the revolt against him and keep foreign forces from his door (see a separate article in this issue) and the remark by a senior Russian official, Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov Thursday, Dec. 5. He said that the Assad government “is losing both control and territory to rebel forces” and “unfortunately, it is impossible to exclude a victory of the Syrian opposition.”
The Russian airlift of supplies for Assad’s armed forces, by military and civ8lian Ilyuchin76 transports, is continuing, according to this dual rationale.
Unlike the Iranian transports which are diverted to Palmyra for safety, the Russian planes continue to come down at the international airports of Damascus and Aleppo, even though they are within range of rebel shelling, raids and anti-air weapons.
At the same time, Moscow passed a quiet message to the rebels through back channels that if Russian planes are attacked while taking off or landing at Damascus airport, Moscow will not just stand by and do nothing.
According to some Western intelligence theorists, if a Russian plane is hit, Moscow is liable to send in Spetznaz special forces from their Caucasian or Black Sea air bases. They will establish Russian enclaves at Damascus and Aleppo airports.
Moscow plans to evacuate 20,000 Russians if Assad falls
Moscow is against intervention in the fighting in Syria, but will go to great lengths to evacuate Russian nationals still in Syria if the Assad regime falls and they decide to get out.
As well as air transport, Russian warships will put into Tartus port to rescue Russian citizens by sea.
The Russian community in Syria is estimated at about 20,000, mostly women married to Syrian military men or students who studied or took training courses in Russia. They are becoming terrified that, because of Moscow’s backing for Bashar Assad, his fall will condemn them to the same cruel fate at rebel hands as the Syrian president’s own Alawite followers.
After this evacuation operation, it is surmised in the West, that Moscow may decide either to recall the Spetznaz units to their home bases or use them to establish fortified Russian enclaves in Damascus and Aleppo, something like the huge US Bagram air base outside the Afghan capital of Kabul – although on a smaller scale.
That way, Moscow would retain a military presence in Syria even if the country passes into opposition hands.