Russia has declared its “complete victory” over the Islamic State groups in all of Syria, according to military's top brass and its top leader, Russian President Vladimir Putin.
In comments released by the Kremlin, Putin said that military operations against the Islamists had ground to a halt on both sides of the Euphrates while Russian activities would focus on backing a political process that would eventually involve presidential and parliamentary elections.
"Two hours ago, the (Russian) defense minister reported to me that the operations on the eastern and western banks of the Euphrates have been completed with the total rout of the terrorists," Putin said.
"Naturally, there could still be some pockets of resistance, but overall the military work at this stage and on this territory is completed with, I repeat, the total rout of the terrorists."
"We need to ... move, undoubtedly, on to the next stage – the start of a political process,” he added.
It remains to be seen whether the Russian Aerospace Forces will continue military operations in the region or would completely draw to a close. Russia's stated goal has been to combat terrorism while pursuing a political settlement in the country through representative intra-Syrian negotiations and the preservation of Syria's unity, sovereignty and territorial integrity.
Iran, Russia and Turkey have coordinated activities to act as a guarantor of peace talks in Syria which have taken place in Astana, Kazakhstan. The three countries have established de-escalation zones across the war-stricken country to mitigate violence and gradually end fighting on the ground.
Hours prior, the Chief of Russia’s General Staff General Valery Gerasimov made a similar announcement to reporters, noting: "All (Islamic State group) units in Syria have been destroyed, and the territory has been liberated.”
"Today the advancing units of Brigadier General Hassan Sukhel and the 5th Volunteer Assault Corps routed the remaining illegal armed forces (in the Deir Ezzor province) and, having liberated the inhabited communities of Al-Salihiyah, Al-Khreita, al-Katia and Musalaha, merged with the government troops advancing from the south. Thus, there are no territories controlled by ISIL in Syria today,"
Putin did not specify whether he was referring to the end of military operations in the whole of Syria, or just the areas around the Euphrates valley.
Russia's military mission in Syria's civil war in 2015 began at the official request of Damascus, and turned the tide of the conflict against rebel groups fighting to oust Moscow's ally, the government of Syria led by President Bashar al-Assad. In addition to homegrown dissidents, opposition factions included known international terrorists and Islamist extremists.
Western governments and rights groups have alleged Russian air strikes killed civilians, an allegation Moscow has denied.
Putin also said it was important to establish an inclusive and truly representative Congress of Syrian Peoples, a proposed peace conference that Russia has offered to host, which would lead to the preparation of a new constitution and then presidential and parliamentary elections.
"But it is a big and prolonged task," he said.