Russian President Vladimir Putin on Monday announced a decision to partially withdraw Russian soldiers from Syria following a series of military victories in the conflict-ridden country.
Putin said he ordered the defense ministry to "begin the pullout" after routing "the most combat-capable grouping of international terrorists," including the "Islamic State" militant group.
"I have made a decision: most of the Russian military contingent staying in the Syrian Arab Republic is returning home, to Russia," Putin told soldiers stationed at the Hmeymim airbase in Syria. "If terrorist again raise head, we will deliver such strikes on them that they haven't seen so far."
However, Moscow will continue to maintain a military presence in the country with a naval facility and airbase, Putin added. Russia has previously announced the withdrawal of troops.
Russia entered the Syrian conflict in September 2015 in what it claimed was a bid to combat terror organizations operating in the country, such as IS and former al-Qaida affiliate Nusra Front.
However, observers said Moscow joined the conflict to bolster government forces to stave off a rebel victory and the overthrow of strategic ally Syrian President Bashar Assad.
Russia's military campaign in Syria has been marked by accusations of war crimes, including indiscriminate bombing of civilian areas, most notably in Aleppo.
Putin's announcement comes after Russia's defense ministry last week announced it had "accomplished" its mission of defeating terror groups operating in Syria.
Read more: Will the 'Islamic State' survive?
"The Russian armed forces' goal to defeat armed groups of the ISIL terrorist organization in Syria has been accomplished," said Sergei Rudskoi, a senior military officer, referring to the militant group by an alternative acronym.
"There is not a single village or district in Syria under the control of ISIL. The territory of Syria has been completely liberated from fighters of this terrorist organization."
Over the past year, IS has lost most of the territory it gained during its 2014 military campaign that culminated in the capture of Mosul in Iraq and Raqqa in Syria.
Days after Russia's announcement, Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi announced Iraq's military victory over the militant group, saying the armed forces regained control of the country's border with Syria.
However, authorities in the EU have warned that the militant group still poses a major security issue, with intelligence agencies saying foreign fighters may attempt to return home and carry out attacks on European soil.
ls/ng (Reuters, AFP, dpa)