Defense Secretary James Mattis today accused Russian President Vladimir Putin of attempting to interfere in the recent midterm elections, saying Putin tried to “muck around in our elections this last month” and calling Putin “a slow learner”, according to The Hill, when it comes to how his actions cause negative perceptions of him and his country in the rest of the world. Mattis made the remarks in an interview today on Fox News.
Mattis’s strongly worded comments about Putin come as a formal meeting between Putin and President Trump at the G20 Summit in Argentina was cancelled, with the U.S. saying the cancellation was due to Russia’s recent hostilities toward the Ukraine, but with Russia claiming that they believe the real reason for the cancellation to be President Trump’s troubles at home, especially the vigor added to the issue of the Russia investigation by Special Counsel Robert Mueller by Michael Cohen pleading guilty to lying to Congress and Paul Manafort’s deal falling apart as a result of Mueller’s investigators finding Manafort was continuing to lie to the investigators. According to The Hill:
In an interview with Fox News host Bret Baier, the defense chief issued some of the strongest rhetoric a Trump administration official has offered concerning Russia in recent days. “There is no doubt the relationship has worsened. He tried again to muck around in our elections this last month,” Mattis said. “We are seeing a continued effort around those lines.” Mattis said the Trump administration and other NATO allies have pressed the Russian Federation repeatedly on un-democratic actions to no avail. “This is a very complex situation because clearly Mr. Putin is a slow learner,” Mattis said Saturday. “He is not recognizing that what he is doing is actually creating the animosity against his people…We’re dealing with someone we simply cannot trust,” he added. Mattis’ statements come following a cancelled meeting between Putin and President Trump following naval disputes between Ukrainian and Russian forces on the border of Crimea, which raised fears of new hostilities in the region this past week.
Russia fired upon and then seized three Ukrainian ships on November 25. Russia claims the ships were in Russian territory, but the Ukraine says it does not need Russian permission to have ships in the area. The area where the incident occurred is near the Kerch Strait, which lies between the Crimea, which Russia annexed illegally in March of 2014, and southern Russia. It is through the strait that access to both Russian and Ukrainian ports on the Sea of Azov is obtained. Ukraine sees this latest incident as possibly indicating that Russia plans to take further action against the Ukraine, and so has stepped up its security at all major infrastructure sites. According to Reuters:
Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko said on Saturday his country had stepped up security at vital infrastructure sites such as nuclear power stations and Black Sea ports in the face of what he called a Russian test of the world order…Poroshenko on Saturday repeated allegations that Russia had amassed a large military force in eastern Ukraine, which is controlled by pro-Russian separatists, and in Crimea, which Russia annexed from Ukraine in 2014…Moscow had also built up a powerful naval force in the Black Sea and the Sea of Azov, which Russia and Ukraine share, he said.
President Trump’s continued expressions of support and even affection for Russian President Putin, including Trump saying he believes that Putin did not attempt to interfere in the 2016 election, have long stood in sharp contrast to the findings of the intelligence community, Congress, and members of Trump’s own administration. Noteworthy in Mattis’s comments is his use of the word “again” in saying that Putin had attempted to interfere in our elections, meaning Mattis believes Putin had done so before in the 2016 election. Trump did acquiesce this time and cancel his meeting with Putin, apparently based on the advice of his aides, but he has yet to call Russia to account in the way most other government officials are willing to do.