James Mattis: Russia Wants to Redraw Map of Europe By Force

U.S. Secretary of Defense James Mattis walks past honor guards during a welcoming ceremony in Kiev, Ukraine, on August 24. Gleb Garanich/Reuters

U.S. Secretary of Defense James Mattis says Washington does not believe Moscow when it claims Russia does not want to change Europe's borders through violence.

"Despite Russia's denials, we know they are seeking to redraw international borders by force, undermining the sovereign and free nations of Europe," Mattis said during his visit to Ukraine on Thursday.

Russia has sent troops to territories in Ukraine, Georgia and Moldova despite protests from the national governments of all three countries.

It has annexed Crimea, in Ukraine, and now regards it as legally part of Russia, while also backing an armed insurgency in Ukraine's east. Moscow also has officially incorporated Moldova's Transnistria and Georgia's Abkhazia and South Ossetia in its military chain of command but regards them as independent republics.

In all cases besides eastern Ukraine, Russia has argued that its action is only to support the desire of local populations to split from their national governments. But the countries to which each of those regions legally belong consider what Moscow often dubs "Russian peacekeeping missions" to be occupation forces.

Mattis said he was considering bolstering Ukraine in its ability to fend off Russia and "strengthen" the Washington-Kiev relationship.

"On the defensive lethal weapons, we are actively reviewing it; I will go back now having seen the current situation and be able to inform the secretary of state and the president in very specific terms what I recommend for the direction ahead," Mattis said.

A deal to supply Ukraine with lethal aid is not official, but should such a deal be drafted, it would be a step further than the previous U.S. administration was willing to go in supporting Ukraine's new pro-Western government.

"Defensive weapons are not provocative unless you are an aggressor, and clearly Ukraine is not an aggressor, since it is their own territory where the fighting is happening," Mattis said, tackling the criticism leveled by Russia at such plans in the past.

Boris Gryzlov, Russia's main negotiator in the Ukraine peace talks and former head of Vladimir Putin's United Russia party, contradicted Mattis's claims by saying that the ambition to attain lethal weapons will be seen as a "very bad and threatening signal" by Russian-backed fighters, RFE reported.