MASNAA, Lebanon Four buses carrying Russian citizens escaping the Syrian civil war crossed into Lebanon on Tuesday, in the first evacuation organized by Moscow since the start of the conflict nearly two years ago.
About 80 people, mostly women and children, were on the buses, according to an official from the Russian Embassy in Beirut who was waiting for the group at the Masnaa border crossing in eastern Lebanon.
The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk to media.
The evacuation was the strongest sign yet of Russia’s doubts in the ability of President Bashar Assad’s regime to cling to power.
Russian officials said Monday that about 100 of their citizens in Syria will be taken out overland to Lebanon and flown home from there, presumably because of renewed fighting near Damascus airport. They also said thousands more could follow — many of them Russian women married to Syrians — and later evacuations could be by both air and sea.
Russia has been Assad’s main ally since the uprising against him began in March 2011, using its veto power in the U.N. Security Council to shield Damascus from international sanctions over the Syrian regime’s brutal crackdown on dissent.