Putin declares "complete victory" on both banks of Euphrates in Syria

MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russian President Vladimir Putin said on Wednesday a complete victory had been achieved over Islamic State militants on both banks of the Euphrates river in Syria.

In comments released by the Kremlin, Putin said the military operation in the area was now finished, and that the focus would switch to a political process that would eventually involve presidential and parliamentary elections.

Putin did not specify whether he was referring to the end of military operations in the whole of Syria, or just the areas around the Euphrates valley.

Russia’s military intervention in Syria’s civil war in 2015 has turned the tide of the conflict in favor of Moscow’s ally, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and against rebel groups fighting to oust him.

Western governments and rights groups have alleged Russian air strikes killed civilians, an allegation Moscow has denied.

“Two hours ago, the (Russian) defense minister reported to me that the operations on the eastern and western banks of the Euphrates have been completed with the total rout of the terrorists,” Putin said.

“Naturally, there could still be some pockets of resistance, but overall the military work at this stage and on this territory is completed with, I repeat, the total rout of the terrorists,” he said.

“We need to ... move, undoubtedly, on to the next stage - the start of a political process.”

Putin also said it was important to establish the Congress of Syrian Peoples, a proposed peace conference that Russia has offered to host, which would lead to the preparation of a new constitution and then presidential and parliamentary elections.

“But it is a big and prolonged task,” he said.

Reporting by Jack Stubbs; Writing by Christian Lowe; Editing by Andrew Osborn/Mark Heinrich