In his final speech as President Trump’s national security advisor, Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster parted ways with the president’s softer approach to Russian diplomacy, setting his sights squarely on the recently re-elected Russian President, Vladimir Putin.

For too long, some nations have looked the other way in the face of these threats. Russia brazenly and implausibly denies its actions, and we have failed to impose sufficient costs,” McMaster said at an Atlantic Council dinner on Tuesday night.

The address, which was delivered before an audience that included diplomats hailing from all three Baltic nations, seemed to address not only Russia’s concerted effort to sew political discord in the United States, but the nation’s apparent brazen use of a Cold War era nerve agent in the attempted assassination of a former Russian military intelligence officer turned MI6 informant on British soil last month.

We are now engaged in a fundamental contest between our free and open societies and closed and repressive systems,” he said. “Revisionist and repressive powers are attempting to undermine our values, our institutions and way of life.”

Although the president himself has been hesitant to be publicly critical of Vladimir Putin, and has even admonished McMaster for doing so in the past via his Twitter account, McMaster did point out that the Trump administration has been taking action to address Russia’s aggression.

In the United States President Trump ordered the removal of dozens of Russian intelligence officers and the closure of the Russian consulate in Seattle. This action will also help protect our democratic institutions and processes as these Russian officers orchestrate Russia’s sustained campaign or propaganda, disinformation and political subversion,” he said.

Trump, who received a fair amount of blow back recently for congratulating Vladimir Putin on securing re-election in a voting process that has been widely criticized as corrupt and undemocratic, also discussed Russia on Tuesday. Unlike McMaster, Trump seemed on the fence about the threat posed by Putin’s regime.

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Nobody has been tougher on Russia, but getting along with Russia is a good thing, and just about everybody agrees to that except very stupid people,” Trump said after meeting with the presidents of Estonia, Lithuania and Latvia on Tuesday.

“I think I could have a very good relationship with Russia and with President Putin, and if I did, that would be a great thing. And there’s also a great possibility that that won’t happen. Who knows?”

When pressed to identify Putin as a friend or foe, the president responded, “We’ll find out. I’ll let you know.”

Across town, however, Trump’s departing national security advisor didn’t seem at all uncertain, particularly when it came to the Baltic states Trump was meeting with leaders from.

Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania have all been targeted by Russia’s so-called hybrid warfare, a pernicious form of aggression that combines political, economic, informational, and cyber assaults against sovereign nations,” McMaster said.

“Mr. Putin may believe that he is winning in this new form of warfare. Perhaps he believes that our free nations are weak and will not respond to his provocations. He is wrong.”

Image courtesy of the Associated Press