Votel warns of Russian influence in Middle East

By Tony Bertuca / March 13, 2018 at 12:16 PM

Gen. Joseph Votel, chief of U.S. Central Command, said today that Russia plays the role of both “arsonist and firefighter” in the Middle East by fueling conflict in Syria and then posturing itself as a peacemaker.

“Moscow continues to advocate for alternate diplomatic initiatives to Western-led political negotiations in Syria and Afghan-led peace processes in Afghanistan, attempting to thwart the [United Nations'] role and limit the advance of American influence,” he said in written remarks for the Senate Armed Services Committee.

Votel said Moscow has also “exaggerated” the presence of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Syria in Afghanistan.

“While the Coalition and the Afghans are the only forces actively fighting ISIS there, Russia has used familiar propaganda techniques to brand ISIS’s presence as a U.S./NATO failure,” Votel said.

Russia is also trying to strengthen its ties to Iran, he said.

“Russia and Iran are both trying to bolster a brutal regime in Syria, limit U.S. military influence in Iraq and Afghanistan, and fracture the longstanding U.S.-Turkey strategic partnership,” he said.

Meanwhile, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis has crafted new a National Defense Strategy that returns the United States to “great power” competition with Russia and China.