Russian President Vladimir Putin is trying to re-establish a worldwide empire with his recent moves into Syria, retired Army Gen. David Petraeus said Tuesday.
"I think that what Vladimir Putin would like to do is resurrect the Russian empire," Petraeus, who commanded U.S. forces in both Iraq and Afghanistan, told the Senate Armed Services Committee. His testimony was reported by CNN.
"Russia's recent military escalation in Syria is a further reminder that when the U.S. does not take the initiative, others will fill the vacuum, often in ways that are harmful to our interest," Petraeus said.
Putin is taking steps in Syria to reinforce and keep its naval base and airstream on the Mediterranean coast, while bolstering the regime if President Bashar al-Assad in order to preserve Russian influence in the Middle East, Petraeus said.
He called on the United States to establish safe zones for Sunnis inside Syria and to not rule out putting American boots on the grounds in Iraq to destroy the Islamic State, CNN reports.
Syria "is a geopolitical Chernobyl, spewing instability and extremism over the region and the rest of the world," Petraeus said, referring to the 1986 nuclear meltdown in the former Soviet Union.
"Like a nuclear disaster, the fallout from the meltdown of Syria threatens to be with us for decades, and the longer it is permitted to continue, the more severe the damage will be."
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