The top U.S. general in the Middle East is casting doubts on reports that Russian President Vladimir Putin is looking to Syria to send reinforcements to the war on Ukraine.
Marine Gen. Kenneth F. McKenzie, commander of U.S. Central Command disputed news reports that Russia opened more than a dozen recruiting centers across the country.
“We haven’t seen any large-scale efforts to do that,” Gen. McKenzie said Friday in a briefing to Pentagon reporters.
The general said his relationship with Russian military officials operating in the Central Command region — chiefly Syria — has been “brisk and professional” and was focused on avoiding any unintended consequences as both nations operate in a tense environment.
Gen. McKenzie wouldn’t comment about the ongoing operation in Ukraine but said the Russians he has encountered appear to be professionals.
“They do have good equipment. We’ve seen first-echelon fighter aircraft down there,” he said.
What sets the Russian military apart from the U.S. is its lack of a capable corps of skilled noncommissioned officers.
“They’re the people who actually get things done,” Gen. McKenzie said. “That’s the one thing the Russians don’t have — that middle management level” of leadership.
Russia’s decision to get involved in Syria was based on opportunism rather than any grand strategy, Gen. McKenzie said.
“They came in [to Syria] because we had gone in,” he said. “It was an opportunity to prove their relevance on the world stage.”