Mat­tis: Putin some­one ‘we sim­ply can­not trust’

Re­la­tion­ship wors­ens, de­fense sec­re­tary says

Las Vegas Review-Journal (Sunday) - - WASHINGTON REPORT - By Robert Burns

WASH­ING­TON — De­fense Sec­re­tary Jim Mat­tis on Satur­day took aim at Rus­sian Pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin, ac­cus­ing him of try­ing to “muck around” in the U.S. midterm elec­tions, of du­plic­ity in arms con­trol and of act­ing ir­re­spon­si­bly in last week­end’s naval con­fronta­tion with Ukraine.

In re­marks at the Rea­gan Na­tional De­fense Fo­rum in Simi Val­ley, Cal­i­for­nia, Mat­tis said the U.S.-Rus­sian re­la­tion­ship has de­te­ri­o­rated over the last two years.

“We are deal­ing with some­one that we sim­ply can­not trust,” he said. “There is no doubt the re­la­tion­ship has wors­ened.”

Mat­tis did not elab­o­rate on his claim that Rus­sia tried to in­ter­fere in last month’s elec­tions, adding only, “We are see­ing a con­tin­ued ef­fort along those lines.” He added more gen­er­ally, “It’s his ef­forts to try to sub­vert demo­cratic pro­cesses that must be de­fended.”

Cit­ing Rus­sia’s seizure of Ukrainian ves­sels and sailors, Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump can­celed his plans to meet with Putin at this week­end’s Group of 20 sum­mit in Ar­gentina, but he said he looked for­ward to meet­ing Putin soon. Rus­sian For­eign Min­is­ter Sergey Lavrov called the can­celed Trump-Putin meet­ing a missed op­por­tu­nity.

The naval in­ci­dent fur­ther es­ca­lated a tug-of-war that be­gan in 2014 when Rus­sia an­nexed Ukraine’s Crimean Penin­sula and sup­ported sep­a­ratist rebels in east­ern Ukraine. It also has prompted global con­cern and re­newed Western crit­i­cism of Rus­sia.

Mat­tis was un­yield­ing in his crit­i­cism of Putin. Asked how the U.S. can de­ter fur­ther Rus­sian con­fronta­tion, the for­mer Ma­rine gen­eral placed the blame for wors­en­ing re­la­tions all on the Rus­sian pres­i­dent.

“We are deal­ing with Putin’s du­plic­i­tous vi­o­la­tion of the INF Treaty,” Mat­tis said. He was re­fer­ring to the 1987 In­ter­me­di­ate-range Nu­clear Forces ac­cord be­tween Wash­ing­ton and Moscow that the White House has in­di­cated it in­tends to with­draw from soon.

The Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion as­serts that Rus­sia has been vi­o­lat­ing the treaty by pro­duc­ing and de­ploy­ing land-based mis­siles the ac­cord had banned. Moscow de­nies any vi­o­la­tion.

Mat­tis did not men­tion di­rectly the ad­min­is­tra­tion’s in­ten­tion to with­draw from the treaty, say­ing in­stead, “We will re-en­er­gize our arms con­trol ef­forts, but the onus is on Rus­sia.”

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