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About 9,000 Russians are registered with the Russian Embassy in Damascus, but some experts say the full number may be 30,000 or more. Over the nearly half a century that Moscow has enjoyed good relations with Syria, thousands of Russian women have married Syrian men and moved to the country. Many of them may urgently demand to return with their children to Russia if the situation turns critical.
This week the Russian Navy refreshed a fleet, including several huge amphibious assault ships capable of carrying thousands of people, which it had deployed to the eastern Mediterranean last summer.
Experts say the replacement fleet dispatched this week is of similar makeup, with at least five huge troop-transport ships at its core.
As part of Russia's eight-year, $659 billion rearmament program, the Navy is slated to receive 50 new warships by 2016, including new Borey-class nuclear-powered ballistic-missile submarines – a third of which entered service last weekend – 18 major surface warships, and dozens of special purpose and support vessels.