‘We’ve Been Very Aggressive with Regard to Russia:’ Secretary of Defense

December 9, 2019 Updated: December 9, 2019

Secretary of Defense Mark Esper said that the United States has been “very aggressive” against Russia during the Trump administration.

“I think from my perch, where I sit, I think we’ve been very aggressive with regard to Russia. I’ve called them out time after time in any number of fora, just as I did today, with regard to their bad behavior. You know, their invasion of Georgia, their seizure of Crimea, their actions in Ukraine. We’ve supported our friends and allies,” Esper said on Dec. 7 at the Reagan National Defense Forum.

Moderator Bret Baier of Fox News wondered if it was different from the previous administration.

“I think we’ve upped our game. If you look at Ukraine, the provision of lethal aid. If you look at the president’s success with regard to increased burden sharing by our allies, we’re getting—by 2024, the increased annual spending by our NATO allies will be nearly $400 billion. That’s all going into capabilities,” Esper said.

“We now have NATO focused on China, something that hasn’t happened in many years. So we had a very successful NATO meeting. But at NATO, it is also reinvigorated by what Russia is doing. And again, we compete with them all over, or we compete with them in Syria, if you will. And I think we’re pushing back pretty strongly against Russian bad behavior.”

Russia missiles
A serviceman walks past anti-aircraft defense mobile missile systems at the Ashuluk shooting range outside Astrakhan, Russia, on Aug. 5, 2017. (Maxim Shemetov/Reuters)

Esper said he was concerned about Russia developing a variety of weapons, noting the country was “cheating” on the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty. Both Russia and the United States withdrew from the treaty earlier this year.

Esper praised President Donald Trump, saying he has put military funding as “a top priority.” He also said that Congress has been “very supportive” but criticized the use of continuing resolutions instead of more permanent funding, calling the resolutions “killers for us” that prevent training and maintenance and cause readiness to go down.

“I have a very good relationship with President Trump. We have a great National Security team. You called out Robert O’Brien there. You know, my classmate, Secretary Pompeo and I have a good relationship. It’s a good strong team,” Esper said.

“The president is always open to good ideas. He lets you have your say, your word. We’re constantly kicking ideas around within the team. So it’s good and it’s—he is just another one of many bosses I’ve had and you’ve had your time that you learn to work with. … I’ve been with him when he is with the troops talking to them, and he just has a great love of them and really believes in our military and understands what President Reagan understood and that is peace through strength.”

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