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Mattis: Putin's Missile Threats Do 'Not Change My Strategic Calculation'

Defense Secretary James Mattis speaks to reporters during a flight to Muscat, Oman, on March 11, 2018. (DoD photo by Army Sgt. Amber I. Smith)

Defense Secretary James Mattis said over the weekend that he doesn’t seen Russian President Vladimir Putin’s recent claim to have weapons that can bypass U.S. defenses as “changing the military balance” or altering the Pentagon’s deterrence strategy.

While laying out his campaign stump nearly two weeks ago, Putin boasted of having a cruise missile that could “reach anywhere in the world” and a system that included a “low-flying, difficult-to-spot cruise missile… with a practically unlimited range and an unpredictable flight path, which can bypass lines of interception and is invincible in the face of all existing and future systems of both missile defense and air defense.”

In the two-hour televised speech, Putin stressed that the West needs “to take account of a new reality and understand” that this “is not a bluff.”

En route to Oman on Saturday, Mattis called Putin’s speech “disappointing, but unsurprising.”

“Now we can dismiss some of this as election rhetoric on the eve of an election and that sort of thing, but as I went through and looked at the clips of what he showed on the videos and all, I get paid to make strategic assessments, and I would just tell you that I saw no change to the Russian military capability,” he said. “And each of these systems that he’s talking about that are still years away, I do not 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.”

“I do hope the Russian military does not embrace the campaign rhetoric that they’re hearing, but they have a pretty professional officer corps,” he added. “And I would just say that, you know, canceling the strategic security talks, I would just say that that just shows a Russia that’s not even acting in its own best interests.”

Russia blamed the U.S. pullout of a cybersecurity meeting last month for their decision to abandon strategic security talks this month.

“Let me talk about the end-state, how many years away they are, how much money they want to put into this arms race that they’re creating with themselves,” Mattis said. “At the end of the day, they can sink all of that money in; it does not change my strategic calculation. I just assumed it would all happen at great expense to the Russia people. It doesn’t change anything.”

“OK, they say they can hit one of our port cities with a robotic torpedo. OK. They can hit one of our port cities right now, today.”

Mattis then addressed Putin’s claim that Russia “can hit any city by getting through defenses.”

“We have never said that we have a missile-defense system against Russia. It’s always been against one thing — rogue nations. And let me be very clear on those: North Korea and Iran. And that’s why the ones are in Eastern Europe. They would not work. And the Russian officers are professional enough and are technically skilled enough, they know what their politicians say is wrong. They will not work against Russians, and they’re not designed to,” he said of the missile defense systems. “So what I’m saying is they have the capability to do right now what he was touting. So it doesn’t change anything, other than how much money do they want to spend on something that does not change at all the strategic balance.”