Putin visits Russian airbase in Syria, meeting with Assad to announce 'partial military pullout'
President Vladimir Putin visited a Russian military air base in Syria on Monday and announced a partial pullout of Russian forces from the war-torn country.
Putin made a stopover at the Hmeimim air base in Syria's coastal province of Latakia while en route to Egypt.
The base, in the heartland of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's Alawite minority, has served as the main foothold for the Russian military campaign in Syria.
Speaking to the Russian troops at the base, Putin said that he had ordered the military to withdraw a "significant part" of the Russian contingent in Syria.
He added in remarks carried by Russian news agencies that "if the terrorists again raise their heads, we will deal such blows to them they have never seen".
Syrian state TV screened footage of Bashar al-Assad meeting Putin at the air base in Syria earlier in the morning. The Russian military has said previously that they will maintain their presence at the Hmeimim air base and its naval facility in Tartous.
The visit marks Putin's first trip to Syria and comes as Assad's forces have retaken most of the country, under the Russian air cover.
Russia launched its air campaign in Syria on 30 September 2015 when Assad's government was teetering on the brink of collapse. Air strikes helped change the course of the conflict in Assad's favour, with both jihadis and moderate rebel groups targeted and heavy civilian casualties inflicted.
Putin's visit follows Moscow's claim last week that the Syrian forces - under the Russian air cover - routed the Islamic State group in eastern Syria and fully restored control over the border with Iraq.
Putin said on Monday that after a two-year military campaign, Moscow and Damascus had achieved their mission of destroying IS.
"The task of fighting armed bandits here in Syria, a task that it was essential to solve with the help of extensive use of armed force, has for the most part, been solved and solved spectacularly," Putin said, in remarks broadcast on Russian television.
"I congratulate you," Putin told Russian servicemen gathered at the base.