Russia will keep its warships – armed with Kalibr cruise missiles – in the Mediterranean to thwart the possible re-emergence of terrorist groups in Syria, President Vladimir Putin said, hailing the navy’s operations overseas.

Russia’s standing naval task force, which includes warships equipped with Kalibr-class cruise missiles, will remain off Syrian shores on permanent deployment “given the persistent threat of terrorist incursions” in the country, Vladimir Putin said on Wednesday.

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Russia’s naval presence in the Mediterranean has become a game-changer in combatting terrorism in Syria, Putin said, adding that “missile strikes as well as efficient action by our naval aircraft inflicted serious damage to terrorists.”

During its campaign against Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS), Russian surface ships and submarines carried out several massive cruise missile strikes on various terrorist targets. They destroyed numerous ammunition depots, command centers, and heavy armor used by Islamist groups, according to the Russian military.

The president also praised the navy for building its capability to project power overseas, saying that a maritime force was crucial to ensure Russia’s economic security and safeguard its national interests.

Russia maintains a 15-strong naval task force in the eastern Mediterranean consisting of guided-missile frigates, diesel-electric submarines, minesweepers, as well as replenishment ships and auxiliary vessels.

Moscow also maintains two Syrian bases, with both compounds being used for the ongoing counter-terrorism operation.

Khmeimim airbase, located near Latakia, and the naval site in the port city of Tartus have both been handed over to Russia for 49 years lease-free, with a condition of automatic extension unless either country chooses to terminate the deal.

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