Putin confirmed 'partial withdrawal' of troops from Syria after defeat of IS, but said main military bases were there to stay
Vladimir Putin confirmed that Russia would maintain a permanent air base and naval facility in Syria after announcing plans to withdraw some troops from the country.
The Russian president's announcement came during a visit to the Khmeimim base in Latakia, where Putin told Russian troops they would be "returning" to their homes "victorious".
The visit marks Putin's first trip to Syria and came after launching his bid last week to be re-elected as Russia's president.
The motherland is waiting for you, friends. I thank you for your service
- Putin to Russian troops
"You're returning home to your homes, families, parents, wives, children and friends victorious," said Putin.
"The motherland is waiting for you, friends. Have a safe journey. I thank you for your service."
The partial withdrawal of troops came after the Russian defence ministry said last week that Moscow had "completely liberated" Syria from the Islamic State group.
Putin also said the Russian air base at Khmeimim and naval facility in Tartus would remain operational, according to Russian state media outlet RIA.
His Syrian counterpart, Bashar al-Assad, greeted Putin who arrived in Syria on Monday morning at Khmeimim air base.
Putin said he hoped the Syrian president would launch a Syrian congress of national dialogue, according to the Russian backed Interfax agency.
He made the stopover before going to Egypt to meet its president, Abdel Fattah al-Sisi.
Putin with Sisi on 11 December (Reuters)
He is also expected to meet his Turkish counterpart, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, to discuss the Syrian civil war and situation in Jerusalem.
He ordered a reduction in his forces in Syria to coincide with the beginning of a ceasefire that was brokered by Turkey and Russia.
Russia entered the Syrian civil war in September 2015 to support Assad. His intervention helped change the course of the conflict and enabled Russia to be an influential player in the outcome of the ongoing conflict.
Russia, alongside Turkey and Iran, have been holding rival negotiations to the Western-backed talks in Geneva.