Report

Mattis Confirms Russia Interfered in U.S. Midterm Elections

The defense secretary also condemned Putin’s violation of the nuclear treaty, seizure of Ukrainian naval vessels.

A woman casts her ballot in the voting booth at the Kent County Public Library in Chestertown, Maryland, on Oct. 25, in early voting ahead of the U.S. midterm elections. (Jim Watson/AFP/Getty Images)
A woman casts her ballot in the voting booth at the Kent County Public Library in Chestertown, Maryland, on Oct. 25, in early voting ahead of the U.S. midterm elections. (Jim Watson/AFP/Getty Images)

Secretary of Defense James Mattis confirmed on Saturday that the U.S. government has determined Russia attempted to interfere with the U.S. midterm elections last month.

“He tried again to muck around in our elections this last month, and we are seeing a continued effort on those lines,” Mattis said during a wide-ranging interview with Fox News’s Bret Baier at the Reagan National Defense Forum in Simi Valley, California, this weekend.

Mattis’s remarks highlight just how seriously the U.S. government is taking the threat from Moscow’s influence campaign. Ahead of the 2018 midterms, the United States kicked off a robust initiative to deter Russian operatives from spreading disinformation, including a targeted operation by United States Cyber Command.

Mattis did not give specific evidence of the meddling, but Nadia Schadlow, a former Trump deputy national security advisor for strategy, described during a separate panel at the forum how Russia has used internet trolls and bots to spread disinformation through ads on Facebook and other social media platforms.

Mattis condemned Russian President Vladimir Putin on multiple fronts during his remarks, noting that “there is no doubt” the U.S.-Russia relationship has worsened since he assumed his current position.

In addition to criticizing Putin for interfering with the U.S. midterm elections, Mattis also took the opportunity to condemn his “duplicitous” violation of the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty between the United States and Russia, which prohibits the use of nuclear and conventional missiles with ranges between 500 and 5,500 km (300 to 3,400 miles). President Donald Trump, in an unexpected move in October, proposed pulling out of the treaty altogether.

The United States is in “full compliance” with the treaty, Mattis said; Russia is not.

“A treaty that is respected by only one side cannot be effective and will not keep us safe,” he stressed.

Although the decision to cancel the treaty is not yet finalized, Mattis indicated that the administration’s position has not changed.

“We will re-energize our arms control efforts, but the onus is on Russia” to come into compliance, he said.

Mattis pointed to Russia’s seizure of Ukrainian naval vessels in the Kerch Strait on Nov. 25 as further evidence of Putin’s duplicity.

Lara Seligman is Foreign Policy's Pentagon correspondent. @laraseligman

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