(MENAFN- Kuwait News Agency (KUNA)) WASHINGTON, Feb 27 (KUNA) -- US Central Command Commander General Joseph Votel blasted on Tuesday Russia as both "arsonist and fireman" for its destabilizing role in Syria.
The top general in the Middle East testified before the House Armed Services Committee that Russia is playing an "incredibly destabilizing" role in Syria, since it stepped in to back the regime of Bashar al-Assad during the country's civil war in late 2015.
"Diplomatically and militarily, Moscow plays both arsonist and firefighter, fueling tensions among all parties in Syria.
Then serving as an arbiter to resolve disputes, attempting to undermine and weaken each party's bargaining positions," General Joe Votel, who heads the military's Central Command (Centcom), told lawmakers.
He charged that along with Iran, Russia is trying to bolster the Syrian government and fracture the longstanding strategic partnership between the United States and Turkey.
Russia is pursuing a peace process in Kazakhstan's capital of Astana, separate from a United Nations-led process in Geneva, along with Turkey and Iran.
"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 UN's role and limit the advance of American influence," Votel told the House Armed Services Committee.
The general warned that Moscow's activities in the situation has placed at risk the US-led coalition's progress in driving out so-called Islamic State (IS) terrorists from Syria.
He noted that like Russia, China is expanding its military presence in the region.
"While Beijing claims both locations support peacekeeping and humanitarian operations, the new military base and port bolsters China's force projection into the region," he said.
"Both China and Russia seek to fill in perceived gaps in U.S. interest by increasing defense cooperation and sales of their equipment to our regional partners. They both are also cultivating multidimensional ties to Iran," according to Votel.
Votel's testimony comes after the release of a new National Defense Strategy report last month that outlined a military's shifting focus from the global fight on terrorism to a great rival power struggle with Russia and China. (end) hy.mb
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