Updated Sept. 7, 2016 1:33 p.m. ET
OXFORD, England—Secretary of Defense Ash Carter said the U.S. and its partners wouldn’t ignore Russia’s “efforts to interfere with our democratic processes,” issuing an oblique warning to the Kremlin amid accusations of Russia-sponsored hacks on U.S. political institutions during the presidential election.
Mr. Carter, who made the comments on a trip to the U.K., didn’t directly address allegations that Russia hacked the Democratic National Committee and prominent members of the Democratic Party as part of an effort to interfere with the November election in the U.S.
But the secretary of defense did make an implicit reference to the matter in a broader speech on Russia, in which he hit out at the Kremlin for undermining the U.S., its allies and the international order. He said Russia wants to be recognized as the great power it is, but accused the Kremlin of pursuing that goal by undercutting the international community and acting out of misplaced fears.
“We don’t seek an enemy in Russia,” Mr. Carter said in a speech Wednesday to students at the University of 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 U.S. defense chief’s comments come days after Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton suggested Russia was using cyberattacks to try to tilt the race in the direction of her opponent, Republican nominee Donald Trump, who has said he would pursue talks and closer ties with President Vladimir Putin.
Russia has denied any involvement in the recent hacks, including an attack on the Democratic National Committee. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D., Fla.) stepped down as chair of the DNC in July after WikiLeaks released a slew of internal committee emails on the eve of the Democratic National Convention.
The Pentagon has been working to shore up its defenses against Russia ever since the Kremlin’s annexation of Crimea in early 2014 and subsequent support for separatist rebels in east Ukraine. The Russian military’s intervention in the Syrian conflict on behalf of President Bashar al-Assad last year also complicated U.S. efforts to counter Islamic State and encourage a political transition in Damascus.
For weeks, the U.S. and Russia have been holding talks on a proposed cease-fire in Syria, which President Barack Obama and Mr. Putin discussed on the sidelines of the G-20 summit in China on Monday.
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 push the Syrian government toward a political transition to end the country’s civil war.
But he said developments so far are “not encouraging,” adding: “The choice is Russia’s to make, and the consequences will be its responsibility.”
Mr. Carter painted a picture of a Russia that is eroding the international order, sowing instability, interfering with its neighbors and conducting itself unprofessionally in the air, in space and in cyber space, all as part of a single-minded pursuit of global power.
Russia, meanwhile, has accused the U.S. of pursuing regime change in the Middle East, North Africa and former Soviet republics in the name of democracy while causing chaos in the process. Russian leaders have long said the U.S. has threatened Russia by encroaching on its borders and expanding the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.
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Above; A U.S. Navy P-8 Maritime Patrol Aircraft
Russian Su-27 combat fighter jet
U.S. Navy picture shows what appears to be a Russian Sukhoi SU-24 attack aircraft making a very low pass close to the U.S. guided missile destroyer USS Donald Cook in the Baltic Sea. Two Russian warplanes with no visible weaponry flew near the destroyer in what one U.S. official described as one of the most aggressive interactions in recent memory. This picture taken April 12, 2016 and released April 13, 2016. REUTERS/US Navy/Handout via Reuters. REUTERS/US Navy/Handout via Reuters
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