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McMaster. Photo: Chris Kleponis-Pool/Getty Images

Speaking at an Atlantic Council event celebrating the U.S.-Baltic partnership, outgoing national security adviser H.R. McMaster denounced Vladimir Putin over what he called Russia's efforts to "undermine our open societies and the foundations of international peace and stability.“

Between the lines: McMaster's was some of the most blistering rhetoric toward Putin thus far from the Trump administration, and included an acknowledgement that the West has "failed to impose sufficient costs" on the Kremlin. It came in his last speech before being replaced by John Bolton.

  • "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. The Kremlin’s confidence is growing, as its agents conduct their sustained campaigns to undermine our confidence in ourselves and in one another.”
  • “Mr. Putin may believe that he is winning in this new form of warfare. He may believe that his aggressive actions in Salisbury, in cyberspace, in the air and on the high seas can undermine our confidence, our institutions and our values. Perhaps he believes that our free nations are weak and will not respond to his provocations. He is wrong."
  • "We might all help Mr Putin understand his grave error. We might show him the beaches of Normandy, where lingering craters and bullet holes demonstrate the West’s will to sacrifice to preserve our freedom. We might bring him to our concert halls and theaters where the music and art of our people reveal our freedom to create, imagine, and to dream."

Worth noting: McMaster made no criticism of President Trump during his speech. He praised the recent sanctions against Russia and the expulsions of Russian diplomats, and cited some of Trump's speeches as examples of speaking the truth about authoritarianism.

Go deeper

Updated 3 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Supreme Court backs religious groups on New York coronavirus restrictions

Photo: Saul Loeb/AFP via Getty Images

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled late Wednesday that restrictions previously imposed on New York places of worship by Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) during the coronavirus pandemic violated the First Amendment.

Why it matters: The decision in a 5-4 vote heralds the first significant action by the new President Trump-appointed conservative Justice Amy Coney Barrett, who cast the deciding vote in favor of the Catholic Church and Orthodox Jewish synagogues.

USAID chief tests positive for coronavirus

An Air Force cargo jet delivers USAID supplies to Russia earlier this year. Photo: Mikhail Metzel/TASS via Getty Images

The acting administrator of the United States Agency for International Development informed senior staff Wednesday he has tested positive for coronavirus, two sources familiar with the call tell Axios.

Why it matters: John Barsa, who staffers say rarely wears a mask in their office, is the latest in a series of senior administration officials to contract the virus. His positive diagnosis comes amid broader turmoil at the agency following the election.

Bryan Walsh, author of Future
11 hours ago - Health

COVID-19 shows a bright future for vaccines

Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

Promising results from COVID-19 vaccine trials offer hope not just that the pandemic could be ended sooner than expected, but that medicine itself may have a powerful new weapon.

Why it matters: Vaccines are, in the words of one expert, "the single most life-saving innovation ever," but progress had slowed in recent years. New gene-based technology that sped the arrival of the COVID vaccine will boost the overall field, and could even extend to mass killers like cancer.