Vladimir Putin
Russian President Putin greets the audience at the congress of volunteers in Moscow in this file photo Sergei Karpukhin/Reuters

Russian President Vladimir Putin made a surprise visit to the Khmeimim Airbase in Syria's Latakia on Monday, 11 December and announced the withdrawal of Russian troops from the strife-torn country. The president, however, warned Moscow would swiftly return its operations if the situation threatens to spiral out of control.

This is thought to be the first time Putin is visiting the facility since Russia launched counter-terror operations in favour of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in 2015.

Speaking from the base addressing the servicemen, Putin said: "I instruct the defence minister, the head of the General Staff to begin the withdrawal of the Russian group of troops to the places of their permanent location."

Assad and other top Syrian authorities were also present at the base.

"I have taken a decision: a significant part of the Russian troop contingent located in Syria is returning home to Russia," added the Russian leader.

After his short visit to Syria, Putin headed for Cairo, where he will hold talks with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, RT reported.