Mattis blasts Putin for election meddling, Ukraine row, US pullout of nuke pact
Iran Press TV
Sun Dec 2, 2018 01:04AM
US Defense Secretary James Mattis has blasted Russian President Vladimir Putin as untrustworthy and "a slow learner," blaming him for meddling in the latest US mid-term polls, recent seizure of Ukrainian warships in Russian waters, and even Washington's pullout of a key arms-control treaty with Moscow.
Mattis also spoke of deteriorating relationship between Putin and the administration of US President Donald Trump during a Saturday interview at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in the state California, further claiming for the first time that Russian operatives have again attempted to interfere in the American elections last month.
"There is no doubt the relationship has worsened. He (Putin) tried again to muck around in our elections this last month," Mattis insisted, adding: "We are seeing a continued effort around those lines."
The US military chief also proclaimed that the Trump administration and other members of the US-led NATO military alliance have repeatedly pressed Russia against engaging in un-democratic actions, but with no apparent success.
"This is a very complex situation because clearly Mr. Putin is a slow learner," Mattis underlined. "He is not recognizing that what he is doing is actually creating the animosity against his people."
He then insisted, "We're dealing with someone we simply cannot trust."
The remarks came after Trump had already canceled a planned meeting with Putin at the G-20 summit in Argentina this week, citing a naval dispute between Ukrainian and Russian forces on the border of Crimea, which raised fears of new hostilities in the region.
The cancellation of the meeting came the same day as the president's former lawyer, Michael Cohen, plead guilty of lying to Congress about Trump's business dealings in Russia, while agreeing to cooperate further with Robert Mueller's's special counsel investigation.
Russian officials, however, reacted strongly to Washington's purported excused for calling of the meeting, insisting on Friday that cancellation of the talks were due to Trump administration's domestic political troubles rather than the recent confrontation between Russian and Ukrainian naval forces in the Sea of Ozav.
Mattis also blasted Moscow on Saturday for what he referred to as the "brazen" violation of a treaty with Kiev and the seizure of three Ukrainian vessels, pointing to a 2003 agreement governing the Kerch Strait between Azov and Black sea.
He claimed Moscow had shown "brazen contempt and dismissal" for the deal "that allowed both Russian and Ukrainian ships free passage." The remarks reflected strongest US reaction so far over the incident off the coast of Crimea.
The Kremlin, however, has defended the capture of the Ukrainian warships and their crew by the Russian navy, insisting that the move was lawful and in strict accordance with international and domestic regulations.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov described the actions of the Ukrainian navy as "an invasion of Russian territorial waters" last Monday and accused the intruding vessels of illegally crossing Russia's sea border and ignoring warnings made by Russian border guards.
"The Russian side acted in strict accordance with the law, both domestic and international. This is a case of trespassing into territorial waters of the Russian Federation by foreign military vessels," Peskov said.
Moreover, Mattis went on to also blame Putin for Trump's decision in October to withdraw from the 1987 intermediate-range nuclear forces treaty (INF), saying: "We are dealing with Putin's duplicitous violation of the INF treaty."
Claiming that US remains in compliance of the agreement while Russia does not, he added: "We will re-energize our arms control efforts but the onus is on Russia."
This is while Trump declared on October 20 that his administration plans to abandon the INF, further vowing US intention to develop such nuclear weaponry.
"Russia has not adhered to the agreement. So we are going to terminate the agreement," Trump proclaimed at the time, adding: "Russia has violated the agreement. They've been violating it for many years. I don't know why president (Barack) Obama didn't negotiate or pull out. And we're not going to let them violate a nuclear agreement and go out and do weapons (while) we're not allowed to."
"We'll have to develop those weapons," he further pledged.
Trump's announcement came a day after The New York Times reported that the US Defense Department had been developing nuclear weapons to counter Chinese weapons already deployed.
According to the report, since China is not a signatory to the Washington-Moscow nuclear pact, the Trump administration decided to accuse Russia of violating the NIT.
Trump's latest withdrawal from the nuclear pact is not his first. The controversial American president also pulled out of the Obama-era nuclear deal with Iran.
The INF, which was signed in 1986 between then US president Ronald Reagan and Soviet Union President Mikhail Gorbachev, allowed the US to counter Chinese moves to build up arms in the Pacific but prevented Washington from deploying new nuclear armaments in response.
The treaty banned all land-based missiles with ranges of 310 to 3,420 miles and included missiles carrying both nuclear and conventional warheads. The original ban between Moscow and Washington led to the elimination of 2,692 missiles.
Putin reacted strongly to Trump's decision, emphasizing that Russia's response would be "very quick and effective."
Putin stressed that scrapping a global arms control system was "very dangerous," adding Russia was concerned about the fact that Washington had already withdrawn from the Anti-Ballistic Missile treaty, planned to ditch the INF, and that the future of another key arms control agreement known as the New START was not clear.
"There would be nothing left except an arms race," he said.
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