MOSCOW: Dozens of Russians fleeing the violence in Syria arrived back in Moscow on Wednesday, in the first operation organised by the Russian authorities to help its nationals escape.
Two planes owned by the emergencies ministry carrying 77 people fleeing Syria touched down at Moscow's Domodedovo airport on a flight from the Lebanese capital Beirut early in the morning, the ministry said.
Russia has vehemently denied that the assistance is the start of a mass evacuation of the thousands of Russian citizens still believed to be living in conflict-torn Syria.
The Russian citizens arrived in Moscow from Beirut on board two planes - a Yak-42 and Il-76. They had earlier travelled to Beirut from Syria by road.
"Most of those brought back are Russian women who married Syrians and Palestinians as well as their children," the emergencies ministry said in a statement.
"These are people from different regions of Syria who were left homeless and without means to live as a result of the conflict," said the ministry, saying that they had all approached the Russian consulate in Damascus for help.
Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Andrei Denisov said Tuesday that Russia was not planning a full-scale evacuation of its citizens and the embassy in Damascus was continuing to work as normal.
According to the RIA Novosti news agency, 8,000 Russians are registered with the consulate in Syria but there could be as many as 25,000 Russian women who have married Syrians living in the country.
Observers are watching for any hints of Russia planning a full-scale evacuation of its citizens which would be seen as tacit admission from Moscow that the regime of President Bashar al-Assad is doomed in its fight against rebels.
Russian diplomats have said that Moscow could send more planes to Beirut to pick up Russian citizens fleeing the Syria violence if required.