Russian President Vladimir Putin talks about the Syria experience during his annual phone-in with the Russian people.

Vladimir Putin: First, the use of our Armed Forces in combat conditions is a unique experience and a unique tool to improve our Armed Forces. No exercises can compare with actually using the Armed Forces in combat conditions.

Yes, we know that the use of the Armed Forces in combat conditions means losses. We will never forget about those losses and will never leave the families of our comrades, who have not returned home from Syria, in trouble.

But that was an important and noble mission aimed at protecting the interests of the Russian Federation and our citizens. Let me remind you that thousands of militants, natives of Central Asian countries, with which we have no controlled borders, are massing on Syrian territory. It was better to deal with them and destroy them over there than confront them with lethal force here. That is first.

Second, our combat efforts have helped stabilise the situation in the Syrian Arab Republic. Today, the Syrian army and the Syrian government control the territory with more than 90 percent of the country’s population.

Large-scale combat operations, particularly with the use of the Russian Armed Forces, have ceased. They are no longer necessary. A settlement through peaceful means is currently on the agenda, and we are working on that too.

As regards the presence of our military, again, it is more than just a military contingent. These are two deployment sites: one in the port of Tartus and the other is an air facility in Khmeimim, which is there in full conformity both with the treaty with the Syrian government and international law.

Our military is there in order to secure Russia’s interests in this vitally important region of the world, which is very close to us, and they will be there as long as it benefits Russia and in pursuance of our international commitments.

So far, we are not planning to withdraw those units, but I am drawing your attention to the fact that I did not call these sites bases. We are not building long-term structures there and can withdraw all of our service members quickly without material loss.

So far, they are necessary, they are fulfilling important tasks, including ensuring Russia’s security in that region and ensuring our interests in the economic sphere.

Kirill Kleymenov: Mr President, what lessons from the Syrian campaign would you call the most important for our Armed Forces?

Vladimir Putin: These are not lessons. This is an invaluable experience as I mentioned – the use of the armed forces, and the use of advanced weapons systems.

I have to make a reservation before we go any further. When I talk about the latest weapons systems, I do not mean a testing ground. Syria is not a shooting range for Russian weapons, but we are still using them there, our new weapons.

This has led to the improvement of modern strike systems, including missile systems. It is one thing to have them, and quite another thing to see how they fare in combat conditions.

As I said, and I will repeat, when we started to use these modern weapons, including missiles, whole teams from our defence industry companies went to Syria, and worked there on-site (it is extremely important for us!) to finalise them and figure out what we can count on when using them in combat conditions. That’s first.

Second, our commanders – we had a large number of officers and generals go in Syria and take part in these hostilities – began to understand what a modern armed conflict is, how important communication, intelligence, interaction between all-arms units and formations is, how important it is to ensure the effective operation of the aerospace group, aviation, ground forces, including special operations forces. This has enabled us to take another major step in improving our Armed Forces.