The U.S. national security adviser, Army Lieutenant General H.R. McMaster, says Russian President Vladimir Putin is "acting against the Russian people's interest” in his relationship with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and his policies to aid the Taliban in Afghanistan.
McMaster, speaking on April 30 on the Fox News Sunday television program, also said the United States needed to see a "change in behavior" by the Russian president before relations could improve.
McMaster's comments about Putin are closely watched for signs of President Donald Trump’s posture toward Russia. During the U.S. presidential campaign and in his early days in office, Trump highly praised Putin, calling him a strong leader.
But relations have frayed, with Washington and Moscow clashing over policies regarding Syria, Iran, Ukraine, Afghanistan, and elsewhere.
When asked how relations have progressed with Russia since Trump's January 20 inauguration, McMaster said, "Well, I don't think they've gotten really either better or worse."
"The Russian behavior as we've seen, you know -- the annexation of Crimea, the invasion of Ukraine, the support for this murderous regime in Syria, and now arming the Taliban -- these are all things that's clearly cut against Russian interest, especially in connection with the relationship with Assad in Syria and to arm the Taliban," McMaster said.
He said the groups Moscow supports in one region can hurt Russia in others.
"The Taliban groups are not monolithic or homogenous. They overlap with others," he said. "In the Taliban's case, they overlap with groups like the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, and then other terrorist groups that posed a great threat to Russia."
"So, here you have a Russian president acting against the Russian people's interest and doing it I think kind of just reflexively," McMaster said.
He said that for relations with Russia to improve, "what we really need to see is a change in behavior."