US defence secretary Jim Mattis serves up a strong condemnation of Russia’s aggression

US Secretary of Defense James Mattis RENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images
  • US Defence Secretary Jim Mattis condemned Russia’s escalating global provocations in a press conference with reporters on Tuesday.
  • Among other things, Mattis referenced a nerve-agent attack in Britain that triggered a unified criticism of the Kremlin.
  • “They’re doing things they believe are deniable,” he said.

US Defence Secretary Jim Mattis strongly condemned Russia’s escalating provocations during a press conference at the Pentagon on Tuesday, following the Trump administration’s move to expel 60 Russian diplomats on Monday.

When asked how he viewed Russia’s latest aggressions, Mattis said, “Attempted murder of a man and his daughter, how’s that for starters,” referring to the poisoning of the former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and Skripal’s daughter, Yulia, in Britain. The two remain hospitalized.

Several countries have kicked out Russian diplomats over the attack.”The brazen and criminal attack was an attack on all of us,” Australian Prime Minister Malcom Turnbull said Tuesday, after expelling two Russian diplomats from his country.

Russia has denied any wrongdoing.

Mattis suggested on Tuesday that he is not convinced: “They point out that it can’t be proven who had tried to kill the person in Salisbury,” Mattis said. “They’re doing things they believe are deniable.”

“They take insignia off soldiers’ uniforms and they go into Crimea,” Mattis continued. “They say they have nothing to do with what’s going on with the separatists in eastern Ukraine; I’m not sure how they can say that with a straight face.”

Russia annexed Crimea in 2014, triggering a military conflict with Ukraine and economic sanctions from the European Union and the US. Russian President Vladimir Putin denies his troops were in the country, but analysts have long suspected Russian forces of disguising themselves with tactics that include removing identifiable markings from their uniforms.

The March 4 nerve-agent attack happened as Russia faces diplomatic pressures on multiple fronts, including from the US, where federal investigators are probing its meddling in elections that have stirred political and cultural discord among Americans.