Russian President Vladimir Putin boasted of his nation’s military strength at a ceremony where he praised Russian soldiers for their actions in Syria. The Russians supported the government of President Assad in ridding Syria of the Islamic State.

Speaking at a Kremlin awards ceremony for troops who fought in Syria, Putin says Russia has “made the main, decisive contribution to the destruction of a criminal group that cast a challenge to the entire civilization.” He added that the Islamic State group was seeking to turn Syria into a base for “global aggression” and threaten Russia.

Putin said the more than 48,000 Russian troops who took part in the Syria campaign were fighting for their “homeland, for a just and fair cause.”

“Your heroic actions and professionalism helped preserve the Syrian state, stop mass killings, executions and terror against civilians,” Putin told hundreds of soldiers who gathered in the Kremlin’s opulent, gold-and-white St. George’s Hall.

Russia launched a campaign in Syria on Sept. 30, 2015 when Syrian President Bashar Assad’s government was on the verge of collapse, quickly turning the tide of conflict in his favor. Thanks to Russian air cover and its special operations forces, Assad’s military has routed both the IS militants and the rebels and seized wide swathes of land.

Putin declared victory in Syria on a visit to the Russian air base there on Dec. 11 and ordered a partial pullout of Russian forces from the country. He emphasized that the military will maintain its presence at both the Hemeimeem air base in Syria and a naval facility in the Syrian port of Tartus.

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“They are an important factor in protecting our national interests, ensuring Russia’s security in one of the key strategic regions,” Putin said.

With a thinly veiled jab at the U.S. Putin said, “The army has radically changed,” he said. “It has changed because people have felt themselves on top, which was very important, and because they saw how our weapons work. The entire world saw it, and our people saw it.”

He was referencing weapons that the Russians had used for the first time including ship and submarine-launched cruise missiles. Russian pilots flew 34,000 combat sorties and launched 166 cruise missiles during the war on ISIS. Putin failed to mention the U.S. led coalition which also fought in Syria.

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