MOSCOW – The Russian military on Friday accused the U.S.-led coalition in Syria of providing safe corridors for the Islamic State group (I.S.) to leave the area around its stronghold of Raqqa.
Col. Gen. Sergei Surovikin, the commander of Russian forces in Syria, said IS made a deal earlier this month with the Kurdish forces to leave two villages southwest of Raqqa and move toward Palmyra.
Surovikin said the U.S.-led coalition along with the allied Kurds “collude with the leaders of the IS, who surrender the areas under their control and head to provinces where Syrian government forces operate.”
“There is an impression that under the slogan of fighting international terrorism in Syria the Americans are using I.S. to offer resistance to government forces’ advances,” he said at a briefing.
Surovikin said Russian forces had struck several I.S. convoys as they were leaving Raqqa.
Russian warplanes struck an I.S. convoy heading toward Palmyra on May 25 and another on May 30, killing 80 militants and destroying many of their vehicles, he said.
Surovikin also criticized the U.S. for trying to block Syrian government forces from taking control of the country’s southern border.
He said that Syrian government troops had secured territorial gains in the southern Suwayda province near the Jordanian border, but encountered resistance from the U.S.-led coalition.
The U.S. has dealt the Syrian government and its allied troops several blows near Tanf close to the border with Jordan, where the U.S. trains Syrian opposition forces.
Surovikin dismissed the U.S. argument that Syrian government forces there posed a threat to the training camp as “absurd” and criticized Washington’s action as a violation of Syria’s sovereign right to protect its border.
Col. Gen. Sergei Rudskoi of the Russian military’s General Staff also questioned the U.S. role in Syria.
“Having declared the goal of fighting international terrorism, the coalition strikes Syrian troops while letting IS militants exit the encircled areas unhampered, thus boosting terrorist groupings around Palmyra and Deir el-Zour,” he said. “It raises a question why they do it and what their real goals are.”
Rudskoi hailed an effort by Russia, Turkey and Iran to establish safe zones in Syria, saying that it has “practically ended a civil war in Syria.” He added that the specifics related to safe zones boundaries and monitoring mechanisms are to be approved at a summit in Kazakhstan’s capital Astana later this month.
Russian President Vladimir Putin on Friday described the creation of safe zones as a “qualitative change” in Syria.
“There is now a real chance to strengthen the cease-fire and give impetus to Syria talks in Geneva,” he said on a trip to Kazakhstan.