Vladimir Putin has said Russia will withdraw the bulk of its forces from Syria following the "successful intervention" in the conflict there.
The announcement comes after the defence ministry said last week that Russia had “completely liberated” Syria from the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (Isil), despite reports that the terrorist group still controls some remote territory there.
Speaking to soldiers at Russia's Khmeimim airbase during his first trip to Syria, where he was welcomed by Syrian president Bashar al-Assad, Mr Putin said he was ordering the defence minister and head of the general staff to begin withdrawing Russian forces to their home bases.
“In two-and-a-half years, Russia's military along with the Syrian army have defeated the most battle-worthy gang of international terrorists,” Mr Putin said. “In connection with this, I've made the decision that a significant part of the Russian military contingent located in the Syrian Arab Republic will return home to Russia.”
Moscow will continue to operate the Khmeimim airbase as well as its naval base in Tartus and will crush any further terrorist activities in Syria, he said.
“If the terrorists raise their head again, we will hit them with such strikes as they have never seen,” Mr Putin said. “We will never forget the casualties and losses that we suffered in the fight with terrorism here in Syria as well as at home in Russia.”
The president told his troops they were “returning with victory” to their homeland and loved ones.