Moscow: President Vladimir Putin on Thursday warned that Russia could ramp up its military presence in Syria within "several hours" if needed, as he urged all sides of the conflict to respect a ceasefire.
"If there's a need, Russia literally within several hours can ramp up its presence in the region to the size required for the unfolding situation and use the whole arsenal of possibilities we have at our disposal," Putin said in the Kremlin.
"We would not want to do that, a military escalation is not our choice," he added as he decorated officers who served in the war-torn country.
"And that's why we put our hopes in the common sense of all parties, in the commitment to the peace process of both the Syrian authorities and the opposition."
Putin's warning came after the Russian strongman on Monday ordered the surprise withdrawal of most of Russia's armed forces from Syria, saying Moscow's task had been "on the whole" completed.
Speaking to the top military brass on Thursday, he said Moscow was not abandoning its ally Bashar al-Assad, pledging Russia's continuing military and other support to his regime and praising the Syrian leader.
"We see his restraint, his sincere desire to achieve peace, his readiness for compromise and dialogue," Putin said.
Putin said that Moscow would leave its advanced S-400 air defence system in Syria and warned that Russian forces would shoot down "any target" they considered a threat.
He said Russia had also helped boost Syria's air defences, adding he was certain that the "patriotic forces" fighting jihadists would score new battlefield triumphs in the near future.
He also extolled the Russian armed forces for their service in the Middle Eastern country.
"We have created conditions for the start of the peace process," he said.
"It is you — the Russian soldiers — who opened the path to peace."
More than 700 soldiers and officers from the Russian air forces, ground forces and navy, and other military officials, have been invited to take part in the ceremony, the Kremlin said.
Pro-Kremlin observers hailed the five-and-a-half-month aerial campaign in Syria which they said helped Putin break out of international isolation over Ukraine and assert Russia's interests in the Middle East.
Updated Date: Mar 17, 2016 17:22 PM