Russian Foreign Ministry crisis center opens in January to help Russians abroad

The Russian Foreign Ministry starts a special project in January to support Russian citizens who find themselves in emergency situations abroad, Kommersant reported on Monday.

"The Russian Foreign Ministry plans to open a situational crisis center (with the departmental status) in early January 2013," it said.

President Vladimir Putin ordered the opening of the center. Its key mission is to coordinate efforts of Russian departments in the protection of Russian citizens and compatriots living abroad in critical situations.

The new department will accumulate current information about emergency situations and crises worldwide, from terrorist threats and hostilities to natural disasters. It will disseminate information about protocols for emergency situations, emergency services phones, international laws, relaxed visa regimes of particular countries and accidents that happen to Russians traveling abroad.

The center will have a hotline and operate 24/7.

Sources admitted to Kommersant that the opening of the center had been accelerated by the events in Syria where two Russians were abducted on Dec. 17. The newspaper's sources from the Russian Foreign Ministry said there had been threats to employees of the Russian Embassy in Damascus.

Russian law enforcement agencies do not rule out that Spetsnaz may have to assist in the evacuation of diplomats from Syria if the situation exacerbates further.

"We have been receiving messages from personnel of the Russian Embassy in Damascus: Tensions are escalating day after day and there is no 100 percent guarantee of the security of our citizens. As soon as the order is given, we will send a GRU Spetsnaz unit to Syria for the safe evacuation of our diplomats," a source at the Russian General Staff told the newspaper.

Kommersant said that approximately 100 servicemen of the Zaslon unit of the Russian Foreign Intelligence Service may also engage in the operation. The servicemen are on standby, but there has been no order to go to Damascus as yet, a source in the security services said.

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