Hours after President Trump told the leaders of several Baltic nations that “nobody has been tougher on Russia” than he has, outgoing national security adviser H.R. McMaster gave a speech contradicting him.
In his last public remarks before being replaced by Yosemite Sam cosplayer John Bolton, McMaster said, “We have failed to impose sufficient costs” on Russia for its foreign aggression. “The Kremlin’s confidence is growing as its agents conduct their sustained campaigns to undermine our confidence in ourselves and in one another.”
McMaster criticized Russia’s “so-called hybrid warfare, a pernicious form of aggression that combines political, economic, informational, and cyber-assaults against sovereign nations.” He said the Kremlin is careful to deploy tactics “deliberately designed to achieve objectives while falling below the target state’s threshold for military response.” That includes spreading propaganda and disinformation, and “infiltrating social media,” he said.
The speech comes two weeks after news of McMaster’s ouster and a little more than a month since Trump publicly rebuked him for saying evidence of Russia’s 2016 election interference is “incontrovertible.”
Despite Trump’s hesitancy to criticize Russia and Putin, the U.S. has recently made moves to hit back at the Kremlin. Last month, Trump expelled 60 Russian diplomats from the U.S. in response for the poisoning of a former Russian spy and dozens of bystanders in England. A couple weeks before that, long-awaited sanctions for Russia’s election meddling were finally handed down.
Still, Trump said on Tuesday that he and Putin could have a “very good relationship,” and he did his part to work toward that last week by congratulating Putin on his not-so-surprise reelection.
McMaster made it clear Tuesday that his feelings toward Russia do not comport with his boss’s and it seems that his replacement may not either. The hawkish Bolton said last month that the Trump administration hasn’t done enough to respond to Russian aggression and called for retaliation in “cyberspace and elsewhere.”
“I don’t think the response should be proportionate, I think it should be very disproportionate,” Bolton said.