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At a meeting in the Kremlin’s St George Hall, [March 17, 2016] Vladimir Putin presented state decorations to service personnel and defence industry specialists who distinguished themselves in the performance of special missions in the Syrian Arab Republic. More than 700 officers and men of the Aerospace Forces, the Ground Forces and the Navy attended the ceremony, along with representatives of the military-industrial complex.
President of Russia Vladimir Putin :
"Comrade officers, friends,
I would like to welcome you –all the service personnel who took part in the operation in Syria.
All of you –pilots, sailors, service personnel of control bodies, of special purpose units, intelligence, communication and procurement, military advisers– acted consistently and with precision.
Words of special gratitude go to the female service personnel. You serve alongside men, with persistence and dignity. Your choice in life brings you our deep respect.
Thank you all for your dedication to our Fatherland.
Russia is proud of you, of its soldiers and officers who protect the interests of their homeland with a great degree professionalism and courage.
You remember what the situation was like in September of 2015. Back then, a significant part of the country was seized by terrorist groups, and the situation was getting worse.
In full compliance with international law, at the request of the legitimate government and the country’s president, we made a decision to launch our military operation. From the very start, we were very clear about its goals : support of the Syrian army in its lawful struggle with terrorist groups. Our actions were also timed for the period of active assaults against the terrorists. We stated clearly that we did not intend to get involved in an internal Syrian conflict. Only the Syrians themselves should seek a final solution and decide their country’s future.
The main target of our operation was terrorism. The struggle against international terrorism is a fair and righteous cause. This is a struggle against enemies of civilisation, against those who bring barbarity and violence, trying to renounce the great spiritual, humanitarian values that the world rests on.
I would like to repeat that the main goal of our actions in Syria was to stop the global evil and not to let terrorism spread to Russia. And our country has demonstrated its unquestionable leadership, willpower and responsibility.
Regarding the results we have achieved. Your actions and intense combat effort turned the situation around. We did not let this terrorist tumour grow, destroyed the bandits’ hiding places and munitions depots and blocked oil smuggling routes that brought the terrorists their main funding.
We have done a huge amount of work to support the lawful Syrian authorities –this is what I spoke about when addressing the United Nations on the organisation’s 70th anniversary. We strengthened their armed forces, which are now capable of not only holding back the terrorists, but also of conducting assault operations against them. The Syrian army has gained the strategic initiative and continues clearing its land of terrorists.
The main thing is that we have created conditions for the start of a peaceful process. We have managed to achieve positive, constructive cooperation with the United States of America and a number of other countries, as well as with the responsible political forces within Syria that truly wish to stop the war and find the only possible political solution to the conflict. It was you, Russian soldiers who opened up the road to peace.
After the ceasefire agreement was reached between the opposition and government forces, the scope of work for our aviation units was significantly reduced. The number of sorties went down threefold from 60–80 to 20–30 a day.
This made the grouping we had created there excessive in the military sense. The decision to withdraw a significant part of our service personnel and equipment was coordinated with the President of Syria Bashar al-Assad, who was notified of our plans in advance and supported them.
I would like to add that in our joint statement, Russia and the United States stressed that the struggle against terrorist organisations, recognised as such by the UN, will continue. Meanwhile, the government troops in Syria will not conduct any action against the armed units of the Syrian opposition that indicated their commitment to a ceasefire.
At the same time, I would like to stress that any group violating the ceasefire will be taken off the list provided by the United States, with all the consequences that come with it.
In this connection, I would like to specify the tasks our service personnel remaining in the Syrian Republic will be working on.
I will repeat that the primary task is to monitor ceasefire and create conditions for a political internal dialogue in Syria.
Our bases in Syria are at Tartus and Khmeimim, the service personnel there are reliably protected from land, sea and air. All the components of the deployed air defence system, including close range Pantsir-F and long-range S-400 Triumph units will be on regular duty.
I would like to note that we have significantly restored the potential of the Syrian air defence forces as well. All the parties concerned have been made aware of this. We proceed from fundamental international norms –nobody has the right to violate the airspace of a sovereign country, Syria in this case.
We have created together with the American side an efficient mechanism to prevent air incidents, but all our partners have been warned that our air defence systems will be used against any target that we deem to be threatening Russian service personnel. I want to stress –any target.
We will of course continue to provide assistance to the lawful Syrian government. This assistance is comprehensive in nature and includes financial aid, supplies of equipment and arms, assistance in training and building Syrian armed forces, reconnaissance support and assistance to headquarters in planning operations. And finally, direct support, I mean, the use of our space force and strike and fighter aviation. The Russian forces that remain in Syria are enough to ensure this.
We will continue to assist the Syrian army and authorities in their fight against the so-called Islamic State, Jabhat al-Nusra and other terrorist groups that have been declared as such, as I have said, by the UN Security Council. Our uncompromising attitude to terrorism remains unchanged.
What will the balance of forces be like after the reduction of the Russian group ? A balance would be ensured.
Moreover, I am certain that with our support and strengthening of the Syrian army, we will shortly see the patriotic forces there achieve success in their struggle against terrorism.
As you may know, fierce fighting is on around Palmyra and on the approaches to the city. I hope this treasure of the world civilisation, or whatever is left of it after the bandits got there, would be returned to the people of Syria and the whole world.
If necessary, of course, Russia will be able to enhance its group in the region in a matter of hours to a size required for a specific situation and to use all the options available.
We would not want to do that. Military escalation is not our choice. Therefore, we still count on the common sense of both sides, on the adherence by both the Syrian authorities and the opposition to a peaceful process.
In this connection, I would like to note the position of President Bashar al-Assad. We see his reserve, his sincere striving for peace, his readiness for compromise and dialogue. The very fact that we withdrew part of our military group there against the backdrop of negotiations on the Syrian settlement that started in Geneva is an important positive signal, and I am certain that all parties to the Syrian conflict will duly appreciate it.
We will work and make every effort in coordination with our partners to help establish peace in Syria, to rid the long-suffering people of Syria of the terrorist threat and help the Syrians restore their country.
You have proved that our army and navy are strong, modern and well equipped and our warriors are steadfast, well-trained and hardened, capable of resolving the most complicated large-scale tasks.
In the course of the anti-terrorist operation, you have performed more than 9000 operational sorties. Mass strikes using high-precision Kalibr cruise missiles with a range of 1500 km were dealt at terrorist facilities from our naval ships located in two seas –the Caspian and the Mediterranean, both from subsurface ships and a submarine. We are proud of the professional actions of our navy.
Our long-range strategic aviation has also done a good job. Thus, they used new air-based X-101 missiles with a range of about 4500 km. And finally, over the short period in Syria, as I have said, we deployed a modern and efficient air defence system and developed cooperation between all the forces and resources and organised administrative support for the group. Our military transport aviation and Navy support vessels have done well too.
In other words, all the most important support issues, the organisation of our group in a remote combat area were resolved competently and in a timely manner, which again demonstrated the enhanced quality of Russia’s Armed Forces.
I would also like to thank representatives of the military-industrial complex : workers, engineers and designers. The latest Russian weaponry has passed the tests, and not at shooting ranges but in real combat. This is the best and the most serious test.
This experience will make it possible to introduce necessary changes, to improve the efficiency and reliability of the equipment, to create new generation weaponry, and to improve the Armed Forces and enhance their combat capability. Life itself has shown that they are a reliable guarantee of our country’s security.
We should bear in mind the threats that appear when we do not do things on time ; we should remember the lessons of history, including the tragic events of the beginning of World War II and the Great Patriotic War, the price we paid for mistakes in military construction and planning and the shortage in new military equipment. Everything should be done on time, while weakness, neglect and omissions are always dangerous.
The military operation in Syria certainly required certain funds, however the main part of the funding came from the Defence Ministry, their resources. Some 33 billion rubles were earmarked in the Ministry’s 2015 budget for military exercises. We simply retargeted these funds to support our group in Syria, and there is hardly a better way of training and perfecting combat skills than under real combat conditions. In this sense, it is better to use motor operating time and combat stock in combat than at a testing range. You, professionals, know this better than anyone else.
Obviously, additional funds will be required to restock our arsenals, equipment and ammunition, including repairs of the equipment that was used in Syria. I am sure these costs are reasonable and necessary, because this was a chance to test everything in combat, find faults and rectify them. These costs help enhance our country’s defence capability and resolve strategic and current tasks to ensure Russia’s security. We need to do it now, to avoid paying a much higher price later.
That price is high, and I am not talking about money now. Here in this hall are Yelena Peshkova, Valentina Cheremisina, Irina Pozynich and Yulia Zhuravleva –widows of our comrade officers who died fighting terrorists. I know that for their families and friends, the loss of Oleg, Ivan, Alexander and Fedor is irreparable. We all take this as our own loss. That is why I used your husbands’, fathers’ and sons’ first names. I spoke not as the Supreme Commander-in-Chief or President, but as a grateful citizen of Russia who grieves over this loss. We will remember their courage and chivalry ; we will remember them as real men and courageous warriors.
The large-scale operation in Syria went on for more than 5 months in a complicated region, far from Russia, and you have done your duty with honour by protecting the security of your country and your people at faraway frontiers. The tasks you were set have been generally met, troops are returning to their regular deployment locations, returning home, to Russia.
I would like to note here, for this audience and for the entire country : Russia’s main agenda today is that of peace. It has to do with developing the economy in complicated conditions, with maintaining and improving the wellbeing of our people. However, without ensuring our security, without creating a battle-ready, modern and efficient Army and Navy we would not resolve a single task. Moreover, the very existence of a sovereign and independent Russia would not be possible without it.
It is very symbolic that we are honouring you in the legendary St George hall that holds the history of Russia’s military glory along with the names of its great sons. Everything here is filled with the victorious spirit of Russian warriors. Our officers and men have demonstrated yet again that they are courageous, noble, strong-willed warriors, true to their Fatherland
Thank you for your service. I thank all the participants of the military operation in Syria. Thank you.
Allow me now to move on to the presentation of state decorations. I will not be able to present them all today. I will present them to some of you ; however, I assure you that we know how each one of you did your duty.
Hero of the Russian Federation, Colonel Viktor Romanov : Comrade Supreme Commander-in-Chief,
"Allow me to thank you for all these high decorations on behalf of the Aerospace Forces’ service members carrying out missions in Syria. For my comrades and me, the participation in this military operation has become a true combat baptism. Many young people passed through it, and this experience is incomparable to anything else. Every time we took off into the Syrian skies to destroy militants, we fully understood that we were protecting not just the Syrian people, but our Fatherland as well.
Today, we continue the traditions of the Russian veterans –our fathers and grandfathers. Our pilots have always stood out for their strength of spirit, honour, and high military and moral qualities. I want to assure you, Comrade Supreme Commander-in-Chief, that the Aerospace Forces’ personnel are capable of protecting our state, ensuring its security and fulfilling all the objectives we are set".
Corporal, Intelligence Officer of the Rocket Artillery Battery Squad of the Black Sea Fleet’s180th Separate Naval Infantry Brigade (Marines) Oleg Baranov :
"Comrade Supreme Commander-in-Chief,
On behalf of my comrades and myself, allow me to thank you for your high assessment of our contribution to the fight against international terrorism.
We will remember this meeting at the Kremlin as a sign of your trust and we want to assure you that we will live up to that trust.
Today, our army is powerful, efficient, and capable of withstanding any enemy. I know from personal experience that Russian weapons are the best and most reliable ; they have never let us down in battle.
We are proud to serve in the Russian Army. Our citizens can be confident that we will channel all our energy into protecting our Fatherland and do everything to ensure our citizen’s peaceful life".
Vladimir Putin :
"Comrade officers, friends,
Allow me to once again sincerely congratulate you all on returning home and on receiving your state decorations.
In his speech, one of the award recipients just said –and clearly, he was nervous, because this is an atmosphere and situation we are not used to– that they were proud to be serving in the Russian Army. And Russia is proud of its army and of you.