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.
Golts said that that the marines on board the vessels could be deployed to protect an airfield in Syria if Moscow decides to launch a massive evacuation effort.
‘‘Under the most favorable circumstances, it will be barely enough to take control of an air base and ensure its relative security,’’ Golts said. Protecting the area around the base chosen for evacuation is essential to reduce risks posed by portable anti-aircraft missiles, which rebels already have used to down Syrian military aircraft.
The Russian government has given no signal that such an operation could be in the making.
Russian officials have said that both planes and navy ships could be involved in the evacuation of Russian citizens. Russia has a navy base in the Syrian port of Tartus, the only such outpost outside the former Soviet Union, which could be used for loading the evacuees on sea vessels.
Officials haven’t given any indication yet that the landing vessels now in the Mediterranean could take any evacuees on board. And after the ships head home after the maneuvers, it would take weeks for another squadron to reach the Mediterranean.
A mass evacuation of Russians from Syria would face other logistical challenges.
The Russian Foreign Ministry has said that it has contingency plans to evacuate Russians, but it has admitted that only a few thousand of tens of thousands of Russians have left their contact details at the Russian consulate.
Golts said that if the escalating fighting forces Russians to flee Syria en masse, they will have to get to the planes themselves through the war-torn country. ‘‘It’s hard to imagine how they could organize military protection for convoys,’’ he said.
Bradley Klapper contributed to this report from Washington.