President Donald Trump and Defense Secretary James Mattis offered strikingly different perspectives on Russian President Vladimir Putin in the course of just a few hours on June 15, 2018.
Speaking with reporters outside of the White House, Trump blamed former President Barack Obama, not Putin, for the annexation of the Ukrainian peninsula of Crimea in 2014.
“President Obama lost Crimea because president Putin didn’t respect President Obama, didn’t respect our country and didn’t respect Ukraine,” Trump said.
Trump also said it’s “possible” he could meet with Putin summer 2018.
This followed comments Trump made at the recent G7 summit in Canada in which he called for Russia to be readmitted to the group. Moscow was booted from the group (then the G8) due to its annexation of Crimea.
“Whether you like it or not, and it may not be politically correct, but we have a world to run,” Trump said at the time. “And in the G7, which used to be the G8 — they threw Russia out — they should let Russia come back in because we should have Russia at the negotiating table.”
Comparatively, as Trump called for America’s allies to rekindle relations with Russia despite its aggression in Ukraine, Mattis ripped into Putin at a graduation ceremony at the US Naval War College in Newport, Rhode Island.
“Putin seeks to shatter NATO. He aims to diminish the appeal of the western democratic model and attempts to undermine America’s moral authority, his actions are designed not to challenge our arms at this point but to undercut and compromise our belief in our ideals,” Mattis said.
Trump and his top advisers have often spoken of Russia and Putin in decidedly different terms, and he has been widely criticized for praising the Russian leader at various times in the past.
Moreover, the president has repeatedly downplayed Russia’s interference in the 2016 US presidential election, even as his senior advisers have continuously warned that Moscow will meddle in future US elections.
At a conference in Normandy, France June 15, 2018, Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats said, “We continue to see Russian targeting of American society in ways that could affect our midterm elections.”
Coats also said Russia had launched an “unprecedented influence campaign to interfere in the U.S. electoral and political process” in 2016.
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.