Wednesday 26 April 2017

Incoming Pentagon and CIA bosses warn of Putin threat

Retired US Marine Corps General James Mattis testifies before a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on his nomination to serve as defense secretary in Washington. Photo: Reuters
Retired US Marine Corps General James Mattis testifies before a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on his nomination to serve as defense secretary in Washington. Photo: Reuters
Russian President Vladimir Putin. Photo: Alexei Druzhinin/Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP

Ruth Sherlock in Washington

THE men chosen by Donald Trump to lead the Pentagon and CIA have broken with the president-elect in their views on Russia, with his expected secretary of defence labelling the Kremlin the “principal threat” to United States interests.

James Mattis, a lauded military general, said at the congressional hearing to confirm his position yesterday that he believed Moscow posed the greatest danger to US-led world order.

At his own confirmation hearing, Mike Pompeo, the Republican congressman chosen to lead the CIA, was unequivocal in his view that “senior leaders” inside Russia had taken “aggressive actions” in launching cyber attacks affecting the US election.

His comments showed him siding with the intelligence community in their standoff with Mr Trump, who spent most of last month passionately dismissing their findings.

Mr Trump finally admitted at a press conference on Wednesday that Russia had likely hacked the Democratic National Committee and the email accounts of top Democrats during the 2016 presidential election campaign. But he also added that it “could have been others”.

The comments of the two appointees mark an unusual departure in views from those of the man that they are likely to soon be serving in two of the most senior positions in the US administration.The president-elect often praised Vladimir Putin, the Russian leader, during his election campaign, and has made clear his desire for the US to build closer relations with Moscow.

Mr Mattis expressed lukewarm support for this view, telling the Senate Armed Services committee: “I’m all for engagement but we also have to recognise the reality in what Russia is up to.”

He added he believed there were a “decreasing number of areas” where the United States might cooperate with Moscow.

Questioned on whether he would impose further sanctions on Russia, Mr Mattis said he wanted to meet the new Trump national security team to “craft a strategy to confront Russia for what it’s done”.

Mr Mattis, who is known for being outspoken, also voiced strong support for the Nato alliance, which Mr Trump repeatedly attacked on the campaign trail, accusing member countries of relying too heavily on American military power. He said Nato was central to America’s defence, and accused Mr Putin of “trying to break” the alliance.

“I believe the alliance must harness renewed political will to confront and walk back aggressive Russian actions and other threats to the security of its members,” he said.

And on Iran, Mr Mattis grudgingly backed the nuclear pact – an arrangement that Mr Trump has vowed to tear up – saying that “when America gives her word, we have to live up to it and work with our allies.”

The comments came as US troops in tanks and other vehicles crossed into southwestern Poland from Germany and headed toward the town of Zagan, where they will be based.

US and other Western nations have carried out exercises on Nato’s eastern flank in past years, but the new deployment – which includes some 3,500 US troops – marks the first-ever continuous deployment to the region by a Nato ally.

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