LEWISTON — U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, said the downing of a Russian warplane by America’s NATO ally Turkey on Tuesday was making an already tense and difficult situation in the Middle East even more worrisome.

In Lewiston on Tuesday to visit with city leaders on economic and community development issues, Collins, a member of the Senate’s Intelligence Committee, took the time to discuss the breaking news.

“What this shows to me is the difficulty (you face) when you have countries with very different goals operating in the same airspace,” Collins said.  

She noted that details were still emerging but also took a hard line against Russian President Vladimir Putin who Tuesday called the Turkish attack on his warplane, “a stab in the back” by “accomplices of terrorists.”

Collins said the aim of the Russian military and Putin was to prop up Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and not to destroy the Islamic State terror network, or ISIS.

She also noted that Russia has targeted American-trained Syrian rebels who have been fighting against al-Assad’s regime and ISIS.

Collins said Putin has said he wants to assist in the destruction of ISIS, especially since that group has also claimed responsibility for a bomb attack on a Russian jetliner over Egypt that killed all 244 people on board.

“But his primary goal is to prop up his ally Assad in Syria,” Collins said. “Assad has killed hundreds of thousands of his fellow countrymen in Syria, using barrel bombs and using horrible methods.”

She said the “contagion of ISIS” was spreading throughout the region and into north Africa, presenting an ever increasing threat to Western countries, which was evident in the Paris terror attacks on Friday, Nov. 13.

“If Russia were sincere in joining the fight against ISIS it would not be targeting some of the moderate opposition that the United States and our allies have helped to train,” Collins said. “When you look at the map, at where the Russian strikes have been, for the most part, it has been at the moderate opposition, not at areas where ISIS is strongest. That may well change now.”

She said Turkey’s membership in NATO made its effort to defend its airspace with the attack on the Russian warplane a significant new point of friction in the diplomatic relations between the West and Russia.

“I’m concerned about what the Russians are going to do to retaliate if they do choose to retaliate,” Collins said. “I think that we need to diffuse the tension in the area and I would hope that we could all focus on ISIS and the need to transition Assad.”

Still she warned that the U.S. should not, “repeat the mistake the Obama administration made in Libya where it created a vacuum by removing Qaddafi, the result was Libya is in total chaos today, its people are far worse off than they were under the dictatorship of Qaddafi.”

Collins said a destabilized Libya was also presenting a new threat to the U.S. because it had become a new safe haven for ISIS and other “extremist Islamic groups.”

On her fourth term in the U.S. Senate, Collins said the threats facing the U.S. and its allies were greater than she had ever seen.

“I cannot remember a time when there were more threats aimed at our country and others and more instability around the world,” Collins said. “It is an extremely dangerous time.”

She said between the chaos in the Middle East and a resurgent Russian that had seized terrain in Crimea and Ukraine, the global security picture was not a rosy one.

“Not a very upbeat Thanksgiving report for you,” Collins added.

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“If Russia were sincere in joining the fight against ISIS it would not be targeting some of the moderate opposition that the United States and our allies have helped to train.” –  U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine. “When you look at the map, at where the Russian strikes have been, for the most part, it has been at the moderate opposition not at areas where ISIS is strongest. That may well change now.”


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