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By Associated Press
Commenting on Reagan's National Defense Forum in Simi Valley, California, Mattis said US-Russia relations have worsened over the last two years, "We're dealing with someone we simply can not trust," he said , "There is no doubt that the relationship has deteriorated."
Mattis did not respond to his claim that Russia had tried to interfere in the elections last month, adding, "We see a continuing effort in this direction." He added more generally: "It is his ambition to undermine democratic processes that must be defended."
Citing the Russian seizure of Ukrainian ships and sailors, President Donald Trump interrupted his plans to meet Putin at this weekend's 20-member summit meeting in Argentina, but said he was looking forward to meeting Putin soon. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov described the canceled Trump Putin meeting as a missed opportunity and said it "did not help solve a number of important international issues."
The naval incident further escalated into a tug-of-war in 2014 when Russia annexed the Ukrainian Crimean peninsula and supported separatist rebels in eastern Ukraine. It has also led to global concern and renewed criticism of Western criticism of Russia.
Mattis presented the latest incident as evidence that the government's defense strategy announced nearly a year ago in realigning from the September 11 wars on what Mattis was having a "great power" competition with Russia and China demanded.
In a speech in the Reagan Presidential Library and during a subsequent question and answer session, Mattis was relentless in his criticism of Putin. Asked about how the US can deter another Russian confrontation, the former naval general blamed the Russian president for worsening relations.
"This is a very complex situation because Putin is clearly a slow learner," said Mattis. "He does not acknowledge that what he is doing is actually generating hostility to his people, he is not acting in the best interests of the Russian people, and he is indeed prompting NATO armaments" – an allusion to increased defense spending by many Europeans. Members and carrying out major Allied military exercises and billions of dollars for additional US spending on military training and operations in Europe.
"We are dealing with Putin's double violation of the INF Treaty," Mattis said. He referred to the 1987 Intermediate Nuclear Forces Agreement between Washington and Moscow, which has announced that the White House is about to withdraw.
The Trump administration claims Russia violated the treaty by producing and deploying it on land Missiles had banned the agreement. Moscow denies any injury.
Mattis mentioned the government's intention to withdraw from the treaty, not directly, saying instead, "We will revive our arms control efforts, but Russia has a duty."