The US defence secretary, James Mattis, has described Russia as a “strategic competitor” after meeting his UK counterpart Sir Michael Fallon in London, despite Donald Trump’s White House seeking to work with Vladimir Putin.
Mattis spoke about the extent of Russian interference globally, from other people’s elections to engagement with the Taliban in Afghanistan and its development of a new missile.
“Right now Russia is choosing to be a strategic competitor,” he said, accusing Moscow of interfering in other people’s elections, though he did not specifically mention the the 2016 US presidential race.
Mattis said: “Russia’s violations of international law are now a matter of record, from what happened with Crimea to other aspects of their behaviour in mucking around inside other people’s elections, and that sort of thing.”
His approach contrasts with that of Trump, who has praised Putin and is embroiled in a row over the extend of alleged links between Russia and his campaign team in the run-up to November’s election.
The US defence secretary’s description of Nato’s common defence policy as being the “bedrock” of west’s transatlantic alliance contrasted with Trump who last year cast doubt on American commitments.
Mattis, on his first trip to the UK as defence secretary, told a press conference in London that Nato’s article 5, which commits the other 27 members of the organisation to come to the aid of a member state under attack, was an absolute given.
He was speaking before a visit by Trump to the Nato headquarters in Brussels for a summit in May. On the campaign trail, Trump had described Nato as obsolete and suggested that if most of the European members failed to increase their financial contributions to the alliance, the US would not feel bound to come to their aid.
But Mattis, reflecting US doctrine since the end of the second world war that Nato is the pre-eminent American alliance, said: “Nato stands united, the transatlantic bond is united. We are going to maintain article 5 as (the) absolute bedrock of the Nato alliance.”
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