James Mattis
Washington CNN  — 

Secretary of Defense James Mattis slammed Russia on Friday, saying Russian President Vladimir Putin “attempts to undermine America’s moral authority” and “seeks to shatter NATO.”

“He aims to diminish the appeal of the western democratic model and attempts to undermine America’s moral authority, his actions are designed not to challenge our arms at this point but to undercut and compromise our belief in our ideals,” Mattis said at a graduation ceremony for the US Naval War College in Newport, Rhode Island.

Mattis also alluded to Moscow’s military actions in Crimea and eastern Ukraine, saying Russia has “proven willing to use conventional and irregular power in violation of international norms.”

“For the first time since World War II, Russia has been the nation that has redrawn international borders by force in Georgia and Ukraine while pursuing veto authority over their neighbors’ diplomatic, economic and security decisions,” he added.

His remarks came shortly after President Donald Trump said his predecessor, President Barack Obama, was responsible for Putin’s actions in Ukraine, including Moscow’s 2014 military incursion into and annexation of Crimea.

The harsh words on Russia comes as Moscow and Washington are “exploring” the possibility of a meeting between the Trump and Putin, according to US officials and a Russian media report.

Mattis also slammed China, saying that Beijing is “harboring long-term designs to rewrite the existing global order.”

“The Ming Dynasty appears to be their model, albeit in a more muscular manner, demanding other nations become tribute states kowtowing to Beijing,” Mattis said, accusing China of militarizing artificial islands in the South China Sea and of practicing “predatory economics” via its acquiring of debts from countries in the region.

The defense secretary sounded a more optimistic note on North Korea, saying the recent summit between the US and North Korean leadership had opened “a possible new avenue to peace.”