Russian President Vladimir Putin said on Thursday that the military operation in Syria is a unique opportunity to test and train his forces.
In his annual call in television show on state television, Putin added that targeting the terrorists in Syria is better than dealing with them inside Russia.
Putin confirmed that Russia is not planning currently to withdraw all of its troops from Syria.
Russia launched its operation in Syria in 2015, tipping the war in favor of Syrian President Bashar Assad.
Putin last December announced a scale-down of the Russian military presence there.
He said Russia “is not planning to withdraw all of its troops at this point” and that they will stay in Syria “as long as it benefits Russia.”
Moscow has sent an undisclosed number of military advisers, pilots, technical staff and military police to Syria.
Putin stressed that Russia’s air base at Hemeimeem and the naval base in Tartous, which he said are important for helping the Syrian government, do not host any permanent facilities, which means the Russian military can be withdrawn quickly if necessary.
In the nearly 4 ½ hours of the call-in show, Putin addressed a wide range of questions
On international questions, Russian President Vladimir Putin says it is a “joke” to suggest that the Kremlin may have interfered in the 2016 U.S. presidential election to favor Donald Trump.
Putin was speaking on Thursday during his annual call-in show on state television.
Asked about the best joke he heard recently, Putin said it was something he read in German media about
Trump “pushing Europe into Putin’s hands.” Putin also recalled reports of Russia’s interference in the U.S. elections, saying that if the two statements were combined, it would be “funny.”
Putin said both allegations are “complete nonsense and can only be called a joke.”
On local questions, Russian President has pledged to respect the freedom of the internet.
Putin’s statement on Thursday came nearly two months after Russian authorities began blocking Telegram, a Russia-developed messaging app, over its refusal to share encryption data with intelligence agencies.
Asked during his call-in show whether Russia was considering blocking other popular apps or websites, Putin said authorities “are not going to shut down anything.”
Putin explained Telegram’s blocking, saying that intelligence agencies approached him to complain they could not trace the messages of the suspected perpetrators of a subway bombing because they were encrypted.
Putin admitted that the intelligence community always leans toward banning or blocking things but added that he will encourage them to find “a civilized solution” without “restricting freedoms.”
Russian President also said Russia’s 12 World Cup stadiums must be financially self-sustaining, following calls from some officials for government subsidies.
He said “all the facilities need to be able to cover their costs.” He suggested the stadiums could add cafes and shopping malls to boost their profitability.
Putin said: “We spent a lot of money and I agree it needs to work for the benefit of sport.”
Regional officials have estimated annual maintenance costs of the various World Cup stadiums at $3.2 million to $6.4 million each.
The Russian government says total World Cup costs are around $11 billion, not including some infrastructure spending.
This was Putin’s first show since being inaugurated for a new six-year term last month, in which he promised extensive efforts to get Russia’s economy to grow into one of the world’s top five.
On Thursday, he said Russia’s gross domestic product is currently 1.5 percent higher than a year ago. He described it as modest but said he’s confident that future “growth is guaranteed.”
Putin also said the government will be looking to streamline the tax system in order to fight poverty, but denied speculation that Russia was considering abandoning its flat-rate income tax.