Protesters hold posters, one in Ukrainian reading "Putin and Assad are killers of children", during a picket at the Russian embassy in Kiev, Ukraine, Thursday, Dec. 15, 2016. (AP Photo/Sergei Chuzavkov)
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When Russian President Vladimir Putin launched the Kremlin's bombing campaign in Syria last year to back up leader Bashar Assad, the regime's forces were being pushed back.Now Damascus is celebrating its biggest victory in over five years of war after recapturing control of the rebel bastion in the east of the city and dealing a hammer blow to those looking to oust Assad.TURNING THE TABLESRussian warplanes played a central role in bludgeoning rebel-held parts of Aleppo toward defeat with a brutal campaign that stirred memories of Putin's destruction of the Chechen capital Grozny in 1999-2000 . Although Assad's opponents finally gave up after Moscow said it halted airstrikes on the city in October, Russia's bombers had already pulverized rebel defenses for months, allowing the Syrian leader's forces to tighten their siege.While Moscow insists its troops are not fighting on the front lines, it admits it has military advisors on the ground supporting Assad's forces.Malashenko said Russian advisers had played their role in helping the ground operation, noting that the death of a Russian army tank commander in Aleppo suggested Moscow might have drafted in some of its big guns to help out.
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