During a speech at the Reagan National Defense Forum in Simi Valley on Saturday, U.S. Secretary of Defense James Mattis slammed Russian President Vladimir Putin for being a “slow learner,” accusing the leader of “creating animosity” against his own people, the Associated Press reports. Mattis’ comments were in reference to escalating tensions in Ukraine, and Putin’s antagonistic stance toward the West.
“This is a very complex situation because Mr. Putin is clearly a slow learner,” Mattis said. “He is not recognizing that what he is doing is actually creating the animosity against his people. He’s not acting in the best interests of the Russian people, and he is actually causing NATO to rearm,” the defense secretary added, referring to an increase in military spending by European NATO members, and increasingly coordinated efforts between the European Union and the United States to confront Russia as it continues to escalate the ongoing war with Ukraine.
But Vladimir Putin is not backing down either. Speaking with reporters at the end of the G20 summit in Buenos Aires, Argentina, earlier today, Putin said that Russia does not plan on leaving Ukraine “as long as the current authorities remain in power,” according to Agence France-Presse. Putin added that Ukraine’s government has “no interest in resolving the conflict peacefully,” diminishing hopes that the crisis in eastern Ukraine could soon come to an end.
“As long as they remain in power, the war will continue,” he reaffirmed.
AFP noted that the conflict — which broke out four years ago — is estimated to have claimed at least 10,000 lives, many of them civilians. The Ukraine war started following Putin’s decision to annex Crimea, causing Russia’s relationship with the West to deteriorate. The war has put a dent in Ukraine’s economy, which is now forced to spend millions every year to defend its borders, the news agency notes. According to Putin, however, Ukrainian leaders are blaming Russia for its economic problems because it’s “easier,” and because they are looking for “outside aggressors” to blame for the dire economic situation.
Given the situation in Eastern Europe, James Mattis’ statements hardly come as a surprise. Apart from criticizing Putin for being a “slow learner” and escalating tensions in Ukraine, Mattis acknowledged — without providing details — that Russia attempted to meddle in the midterm elections. According to the defense secretary, the relationship between Russia and the United States has worsened, and Putin is to blame for that.
“We are dealing with someone that we simply cannot trust. There is no doubt the relationship has worsened,” Mattis concluded his remarks at the Reagan National Defense Forum.