Europe

Russia's defense minister visits Russian air base in Syria

  • Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu visits the Hemeimeem air base in Syria, Saturday, June 18, 2016. Russia's defense minister visited Syria on Saturday to meet the country's leader and inspect the Russian air base there, a high-profile trip intended to underline Moscow's role in the region. (Vadim Savitsky/Russian Defense Ministry Press Service pool photo via AP)

    Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu visits the Hemeimeem air base in Syria, Saturday, June 18, 2016. Russia's defense minister visited Syria on Saturday to meet the country's leader and inspect the Russian air base there, a high-profile trip intended to underline Moscow's role in the region. (Vadim Savitsky/Russian Defense Ministry Press Service pool photo via AP)  (The Associated Press)

  • Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu, second left, rear, visits the Hemeimeem air base in Syria, Saturday, June 18, 2016. Russia's defense minister visited Syria on Saturday to meet the country's leader and inspect the Russian air base there, a high-profile trip intended to underline Moscow's role in the region. (Vadim Savitsky/Russian Defense Ministry Press Service pool photo via AP)

    Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu, second left, rear, visits the Hemeimeem air base in Syria, Saturday, June 18, 2016. Russia's defense minister visited Syria on Saturday to meet the country's leader and inspect the Russian air base there, a high-profile trip intended to underline Moscow's role in the region. (Vadim Savitsky/Russian Defense Ministry Press Service pool photo via AP)  (The Associated Press)

Russia's defense minister has visited the Russian military base in Syria.

The Defense Ministry said Saturday that Sergei Shoigu met with Russian pilots and visited their quarters at the Hemeimeem air base.

The ministry said Shoigu discussed the current operations with the Russian commander in Syria, Col. Gen. Alexander Dvornikov, and inspected the S-400 air defense missile systems protecting the base in the coastal province of Lattakia.

Russia has conducted its air campaign in Syria since last September, helping Syrian President Bashar Assad's forces win back some ground.

A U.S.- and Russian- brokered cease-fire that began on Feb. 27 has helped reduce hostilities, but fierce fighting has continued in many areas. The Islamic State group and the al-Qaida branch in Syria, the Nusra Front, have been excluded from the truce.