Defense Secretary James N. Mattis said he sees no change in Russia's military capability in light of Russian President Vladimir Putin's recent speech in which he said Russia has nuclear weapons capable of attacking the United States.
The secretary called Putin's remarks "disappointing, but unsurprising."
Mattis spoke with reporters aboard a plane bound for Oman as part of an overseas trip designed to strengthen relationships.
"I looked at President Putin's speech, and like many of us, I focused on the last third of it," Mattis said. "The first two-thirds [was] clearly about domestic issues, but also opportunities in that first two-thirds, as I was reading it. And I tried to forget that I … knew what the last third was about — that you would actually see opportunities there to reduce the tensions between the NATO countries, the Western countries, the nations that want to live by international law, maintain sovereignty and territorial integrity of everyone, and the Russian Federation."
The secretary said his role is to make strategic assessments, and that he saw no change to the Russian military capability in Putin's remarks. The systems the Russian president talked about "are still years away," the secretary said, adding that he doesn't see them changing the military balance.
"They do not impact any need on our side for a change in our deterrent posture, which would be certainly an indication I registered this assessment with something that was changing," Mattis said.
Moscow's cancellation of scheduled strategic security talks shows a Russia that's not even acting in its own best interests, he added.
Russia signed up with the United Nations Security Council for a ceasefire in Homs, Aleppo, and East Ghouta in Syria, Mattis noted. "Their partner proceeds to bomb, at best, indiscriminately, at worst, targeting hospitals," he said. "I don't know which it is — either they're incompetent or they're committing illegal acts, or both."
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Though he doesn't have evidence to show them, the secretary told reporters, he is aware of reports of chlorine gas use and of the bombings taking place in Syria. "It's almost like a sickening replay of what we've seen before, in Aleppo for example, and before that in Homs," he said.
U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley worked with the U.N. Security Council to reach a cease-fire in Syria, and "Russia's partner immediately commenced violating it," Mattis said. "We're working through diplomatic means; continuing to work," he emphasized. "We don't give up."