(Refiles to fix typo in number of training camps in 4th paragraph)
MOSCOW, Dec 22 (Reuters) - Russian air strikes in Syria have killed 35,000 rebel fighters and succeeded in halting a chain of revolutions in the Middle East, Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu said on Thursday.
Speaking at a gathering of top military officials that appeared designed to showcase Russia’s military achievements, Shoigu said Moscow’s intervention had prevented the collapse of the Syrian state.
“We are now stronger than any potential aggressor,” President Vladimir Putin said at the same event at the Defence Ministry in Moscow.
Shoigu said Russian aircraft had flown 18,800 sorties in Syria since the start of the Kremlin’s operation there last year, destroying 725 training camps, 405 sites where weapons were being made and killing 35,000 fighters.
“The chain of ‘colour revolutions’ spreading across the Middle East and Africa has been broken,” Shoigu said.
Russia’s intervention in Syria is widely seen as having saved President Bashar al-Assad’s forces from defeat and as being crucial to their retaking full control of Aleppo.
Shoigu also said Russia’s nuclear missile forces would next year be swelled by three extra units armed with modern weaponry and that the air force would receive five modernised strategic bombers.
But Putin warned that while Russia’s military power had grown substantially, “if we don’t want that to change we had better not lose focus.” (Reporting by Peter Hobson; Editing by Andrew Osborn)