Russia marks five-year anniversary of brutal intervention in Syria war
Moscow began military operations against opposition territories on 30 September 2015, after the regime suffered a series of major losses to rebels.
The event helped turn the tide of the war but at a bloody price for civilians, killing thousands and displacing hundreds of thousands more.
Russia alleged its role in Syria was to defeat the Islamic State group, which at the time controlled large parts of the north and east of the country.
On Wednesday, Russia's Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu repeated this claim and amplified Moscow's role in IS' defeat - which has been largely put down to a US air campaign and Arab-Kurdish ground offensive, after the group lost key territories in Iraq.
"The task set by the supreme commander-in-chief five years ago was successfully fulfilled. The Islamic State international terrorist organisation ceased to exist in Syria, none of the terrorists managed to find his way into Russia," the minister said.
With Russian airpower and Iranian ground support, the regime managed to capture East Aleppo in 2017, Eastern Ghouta and Daraa in 2018, and large parts of Idlib province in early 2020.
"With the support of the Russian aviation, Syria's armed forces liberated 1,024 populated areas from terrorists. As a result, the government troops and self-defence forces regained control over 88 percent of the country's territory," Shoigu said, according to TASS news agency.
The impact of civilians has been devastating with hospitals, bakeries, homes and civil rescue centres among the targets of Russian bombers, according to observers.
Around 22,000 civilians have been killed and more than 40,000 injured in Russian bombing, according to AirWars.
Shoigu appeared to suggest that the human cost of the intervention, which has been repeatedly downplayed by Moscow, was a price worth paying for the regime to regain control of key parts of Syria.
"Sometimes, in the course of ongoing discussions, a question arises whether Russia did the right thing to assume this difficult task. But every time there are all grounds to say: the mission in Syria was necessary and the decision to start the military operation was correct, maybe it was even the only option," the defence minister wrote for the Krasnaya Zvezda newspaper.
Syrians in opposition areas remember the anniversary differently. The White Helmets - whose civil defence teams have been frequently targeted by Russian aircraft - noted the human cost of the intervention.
"A deadly #Russian arsenal of warplanes joined the regime to slaughter #Syrian civilians 5 years ago today. Thousands more Syrians would lose their lives and the massacres are ongoing with an unprecedented displacement of people. #RussianAggression," the group tweeted.
"[Thirty-six] White Helmets volunteers were killed and 158 volunteers were injured as a result of the Russian attacks targeting the teams as they carried out their humanitarian duty to rescue civilians in Syria."