Defense Secretary Ash Carter accused Russia of undermining international order and interfering "with our democratic processes" Wednesday during an address to students at the University of Oxford in the U.K.
While Carter did not specifically refer to allegations that Russia hacked U.S. political organizations like the Democratic National Committee and Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, his comments did serve as a warning to the Kremlin not to meddle in America’s democratic process.
"We don’t seek an enemy in Russia," Carter said in a speech at Oxford’s Blavatnik School of Government. "But make no mistake: We will defend our allies, the principled international order, and the positive future it affords all of us. We will counter attempts to undermine our collective security. And we will not ignore attempts to interfere with our democratic processes."
The Pentagon chief’s comments come after Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton suggested Moscow is utilizing cyber attacks to help her Republican opponent Donald Trump.
Russia has vehemently denied that it was part of the hacking after reports of the breach surfaced in July. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov has told reporters that suggestions of Russia sponsoring hacks of the DNC are "maniacal attempts to exploit the Russian theme in the U.S. election campaign."
WikiLeaks released thousands of private DNC emails before the Democratic National Convention showing party officials favoring Clinton over Sen. Bernie Sanders (I., Vt.) in the Democratic primary, leading committee chair Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (Fla.) to resign her post.
Carter’s remarks coincide with President Obama and Russian President Vladimir Putin pursuing negotiations on a ceasefire deal in Syria. Both presidents discussed these negotiations Monday in China at the G-20 Summit, and Carter brought up the matter during his speech, the Wall Street Journal reported.
The U.S. has proposed coordinating attacks against the Syria Conquest Front, formerly known as the Nusra Front and linked to al Qaeda, in exchange for a pledge by the Syrian military to ground its air force. Mr. Obama has expressed skepticism that the U.S. and Russia can reach a deal or that a cease-fire will hold long enough for any cooperation to go ahead.
Mr. Carter echoed that skepticism in his speech in the U.K. on Wednesday. He said U.S. diplomats were testing whether Russia would prove willing and able to influence the Syrian government toward a political transition to end the country’s civil war.
Carter will meet with British Defense Secretary Michael Fallon later on Wednesday in London, where they are expected to discuss strategies to keep pressure on Russia following its annexation of Crimea in 2014.
The European Union is debating whether to extend sanctions on Russia over its aggression in Ukraine. The sanctions have hurt both sides economically as Ukrainian troops continue fighting pro-Russian separatists in the Donbass region. Ukraine fears an easing of sanctions on Moscow could signal a loss of Western support.