Confident, upbeat Putin goes on Mideast 'victory' tour
CAIRO (AP) — Russian President Vladimir Putin declared "victory" in Syria during a surprise visit today to a military base there, then traveled to Egypt and Turkey, where he celebrated Moscow's deepening ties with those key regional powers.
The tour highlighted Russia's expanded reach in the Middle East and the global clout of its leader, who announced last week he is seeking re-election for another six-year term in March.
Speaking to Russian troops on the tarmac at the Hemeimeem air base in Syria, Putin talked of the triumph over "terrorists" and announced a partial pullout of Russian troops.
"You have shown the best qualities of a Russian soldier – courage, valor, team spirit, decisiveness and excellent skills," he said in televised remarks to the troops. "The Motherland is proud of you."
Putin praised Russia's effort to help President Bashar Assad's forces to gain the upper hand over the Islamic State group and Syrian rebels.
"Here in Syria, far away from our borders, you helped the Syrian people to preserve their state and fend off attacks by terrorists," Putin said. "You have dealt a devastating blow to those who blatantly threatened our country. We will never forget about the victims who fell in the fight against terror both here and in Russia."
Putin also said that he had ordered the military to withdraw a "significant part" of the Russian contingent in Syria – although he has announced Russian troop withdrawals before.
"Friends, the Motherland is waiting for you," he said. "You are coming back home with victory!"