Russian Defense Ministry Attacks U.S. Central Commander Joseph Votel For Doubts On U.S.-Russia Cooperation
The Russian Ministry of Defense has criticized General Joseph Votel, commander of U.S Central Command, over a recent interview with ABC News in which the general expressed his doubts as to any possible coordination between the U.S and Russia in Syria.
In the wake of an ongoing refugee crisis, leaders Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin had reportedly discussed “the resolution in Syria and how we might get the refugees back” earlier this month at the Helsinki summit, said Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. But, no formal agreements were made and Votel noted that he “received no further direction” following the meeting.
The U.N. estimates that over 5 million people have fled Syria since the civil war outbreak in 2011.
Meanwhile, General Votel expressed his doubts about any joint plans with Russia given their continued support for the Assad regime in Syria following chemical attacks on civilians and false claims of Russian troop reductions. “I’ve watched some of the things that Russia has done,” said Votel. “It does give me some pause here.”
The Russian Ministry of Defense later published a statement attacking Votel for allegedly discrediting Trump, “his supreme commander-in-chief.” The Ministry also criticized the U.S’ presence in Syria, claiming it only had “one option to stay in Syria — to engage in cooperation with Russia and the country’s legal leadership in the process of assisting the return of refugees and temporarily displaced persons to their homes.”
The U.S. is currently in contact with Russia forces, but only to “de-conflict our operations, we do not coordinate them,” clarified Defense Secretary James Mattis.
Even if the U.S wanted to cooperate, such action would be impossible under current U.S law. Following Russia’s annexation of Crimea, Congress banned any “military to military cooperation” with Russia. Last week, Congress released plans to renew this ban with their 2019 defense bill.