>> Mission accomplished. That's Vladimir Putin's verdict on Russia's offensive against Islamic State. He made a surprise visit to Russia's Hmeimim Air Base in Syria on Monday, to order a withdrawal of a significant part of Russia's military from the Middle Eastern country. Before sitting down with Syria's President Bashar al-Assad to praise their joint work.
> The fact that here in Syria we have defeated one of the major terrorist groups, ISIS, is extremely for both Syria and Russia, and for the whole world.>> The Kremlin first launched air strikes in Syria in September 2015. Russia's biggest intervention in the Middle East in decades has turned the tide in Assad's favor.
Putin may now be looking ahead to Russia's presidential election in March. The claim to victory could help increase turnout by appealing to patriotism. Though not all soldiers are heading home, Russia will keep two bases, at Hmeimim, and in the Mediterranean Port of Tartus. Putin is also keen to organize the Syrian Congress on National Dialogue, to try and hammer out a new constitution between the Syrian government and opposition.
With the opposition insistent that Putin's pal Assad plays no role in a future Syria, it's hard to imagine a deal that would make both sides happy.