Defense Secretary James Mattis spoke at the Reagan National Defense Forum over the weekend, taking the opportunity to discuss critical elements of the U.S. national security strategy, dispel misconceptions about the nation’s defense apparatus, and notably, take a few shots at Russian president Vladimir Putin and even China.

When asked directly about Russia’s recent aggression toward Ukraine, Mattis did not pull his punches, saying, “Well, this is a very complex situation, because Mr. Putin is clearly a slow learner.”

He went on to explain that Putin’s actions — while potentially in line with Russia’s overarching plans to keep Ukraine as a destabilized buffer between Russia’s borders and NATO forces — hurt the Russian people in the eyes of the world.

He is not recognizing that what he is doing is actually creating the animosity against his people. He’s not acting in the best interest of the Russian people, and he is actually causing NATO to rearm and to strengthen the democracy stance, the unified stance of all the democracies together. “

Mattis was then asked by a reporter whether or not relations have worsened between the United States and Russia under the Trump administration. Mattis did not hesitate in saying that they have only become more strained — adding that Russia has continued to try to meddle in American politics through the recent mid-term elections.

There’s no doubt the relationship has worsened. He tried again to muck around in our elections just last month, and we are seeing a continued effort along those lines.

So Russia doesn’t speak with one voice. We find that Russia, on the surface tries to make certain very deceitful statements stick. They don’t stick. Their actions speak louder than words, and it has worsened the relationship.”

While the Defense Secretary did field a number of questions about China, all of which he answered with a measured diplomatic tone indicating a desire to counter their aggression with increased cooperation wherever security would allow, it was his statements that didn’t directly cite China but seemed to pertain to them that offered a glimpse into the retired Marine general’s perspective on America’s Pacific competitor. China has been rapidly expanding its influence around the world by offering massive loans to underdeveloped nations for infrastructure projects that bolster international trade with China specifically. It is widely expected that many of these nations will default on their loans, providing China with significant economic leverage over these nations.