“That’s why they sent the planes now without waiting until the eleventh hour when rebels come close to victory,” Mr. Mirsky said.
Alexander Golts, an independent Moscow-based military analyst, said that if Russia sees Mr. Assad’s defeat as imminent, it would have to quickly organize a massive air bridge to take its citizens home.
He said that such an effort would be extremely challenging and require sending troops to protect an air base in Syria that would be chosen for the evacuation to make sure that no rebels armed with anti-aircraft weapons are in close vicinity.
Even now, with Mr. Assad’s forces in control of the area around Damascus, Russian planes flew to Beirut in a clear move to reduce security risks, Mr. Golts said.
A Russian navy squadron, currently in the Mediterranean, is scheduled to conduct maneuvers off Syria’s shores later this month. It includes four landing ships capable of carrying several hundred marines and armored vehicles.
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