(MOSCOW) -- Moscow had to scramble Thursday to refute a report by one of its own newspapers that Russia had totally abandoned its naval base in the Syrian port of Tartus.
According to the business daily Vedomosti, which quoted a source from the Defense Ministry, all Russian personnel -- both military and civilian -- had evacuated Tartus. Ironically, the Russian naval presence in the Mediterranean has never been so large with a 16-ship flotilla.
However, a statement from the Russian Defense Ministry said that all civilian contractors remain at the naval base, which "remains the official base and repair facility for Russian ships in the Mediterranean Sea and it continues to execute its tasks in line with its purpose."
Russia still supports the regime of President Bashar al-Assad whose forces have seemed to regain the momentum in the two-year conflict.
Despite this, there appears to be concerns that Tartus could be targeted by rebel forces.
Moscow has been systematically evacuating its nationals from Syria since earlier this year although the process has been slow because there are an estimated 30,000 Russians in the country, many of whom don't want to leave.
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