Throughout his long career of military service, Defense Secretary James Mattis has epitomized what it means to be fearless in the face of an enemy. And, in his official capacity serving the Trump administration, he has taken that same fearlessness as he deals with international leaders like Russian President Vladimir Putin.
As the Washington Examiner reports, Mattis was asked about the ongoing Russia-Ukraine tensions when he called Putin a “slow learner.”
“This is a very complex situation because Mr. Putin is clearly a slow learner,” Mattis said to Fox News’ Bret Baier at the Reagan Defense Forum, per the Washington Examiner. “He is not recognizing that what he is doing is actually creating the animosity against his people. He is not acting in the best interest of the Russian people.”
And, from the report:
Mattis derided Putin’s integrity just minutes after a speech in which he denounced “Putin’s duplicitous violation” of a Cold War-era nuclear weapons treaty, as well as the recent seizure of three Ukrainian vessels trying to pass through a critical waterway to the Ukrainian port city of Mariupol. The broadside could preview the Trump administration’s posture towards Russia at the upcoming NATO foreign minister summit in Brussels next week.
“He is actually causing NATO to re-arm and strengthen the democracies’ stance, the unified stance of all the democracies together,” Mattis said of Putin.
Mattis also called out the Russian president for differences between his words with the international community and what the Russian president actually does.
“We are dealing with someone that we simply cannot trust,” Mattis continued. “Russia doesn’t speak with one voice. We find that Russia, on the surface, tries to make certain very deceitful statements stick. They don’t stick. Their actions speak louder than words. And it has worsened the relationship.”
In addition to the swipe at the Russian leader, Mattis thanked congressional leaders for providing the military with record-breaking funding during his keynote address at the event. He also commented that the new Democratic-majority House of Representatives should continue to yield a large budget for military expenditures.
“This is the normal give-and-take of building the president’s budget,” Mattis said of President Trump’s interest in scaling back the initially scheduled defense budget of $733 billion to $700 billion, via Politico. “This is not a decision. This is where the president is trying to sort out competing priorities.”
Mattis added: “The issue is in play. I’ll give my advice to the president. I owe him the courtesy of that in private.”
As the Associated Press reports, President Trump withdrew from a scheduled meeting with Putin over the ongoing conflict with Ukraine:
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, saying it didn’t “help settling a number of important international problems.”
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 portrayed the latest incident as evidence that the administration’s defense strategy, announced nearly a year ago, was correct in refocusing from the post-9/11 wars to what Mattis has called an emergence of “great power” competition with Russia and China.