Defense Secretary James N. Mattis took time to speak to reporters while aboard a plane to Oman this weekend. During his conversation, he addressed the Russian military’s capabilities and their current operations in Syria.
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 no 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 cease-fire 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.”
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.”