Bill Clinton says he could have done nothing to prevent Putin’s aggression in Ukraine

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Former President Bill Clinton said on Tuesday that nothing he could have done as leader of the United States would have stopped Russian President Vladimir Putin from heading towards authoritarianism and his aggressive invasion of Ukraine.

“I don’t believe we could have done anything to prevent this,” Clinton said at a Brown University lecture.

Clinton has denied that his administration did anything to isolate Russia or personally antagonize Putin in the 1990s, when his administration oversaw an expansion of NATO after the collapse of the Soviet Union. “It’s not true that we did anything to isolate, humiliate or ignore Putin. That’s the biggest bullshit you’ll ever hear,” Clinton said.

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U.S. President Bill Clinton shakes hands with Russian President Vladimir Putin at the Assara Guest House during the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation annual meeting in Brunei, November 15, 2000.
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U.S. President Bill Clinton shakes hands with Russian President Vladimir Putin at the Assara Guest House during the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation annual meeting in Brunei, November 15, 2000.
(Reuters photographer)

Clinton said Putin’s desire to build a “klepto-state” and dismantle democracy was not evident during his first presidential term. “At the end of his second term, it was clear he wanted to stay for life,” Clinton said of Putin. “I don’t believe anything we could have done would have done.”

The Clinton administration’s decision to expand NATO, which began as a Cold War-era agreement between European countries and the United States to counter the expansion of the Soviet Union, was criticized amid Russia’s invasion of Ukraine two months ago. Putin cited NATO’s eastward expansion and the potential of Ukraine’s NATO membership as justification for his assault on Ukrainian cities.

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Rajan Menon, author of “Conflict in Ukraine: The Unwinding of the Post-Cold War Order”, argued that the Clinton administration excluded Russia from the new European system following the economic collapse after the demise of the Soviet Union. But Clinton said Tuesday that Russia would have been welcome in NATO.

“There was nothing stopping them (Russia) from joining NATO if they thought their biggest security threats would come from non-state actors,” Clinton said.

Recounting his administration’s actions to cooperate with Russia, Clinton recounted a case where “neo-conservative” rhetoric and the potential for a Republican president scared Putin away from further disarmament.

US President Bill Clinton, Russian President Vladimir Putin and Japanese Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori (LR).

US President Bill Clinton, Russian President Vladimir Putin and Japanese Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori (LR).
(Reuters)

Prior to the 2000 U.S. presidential election, Clinton said he met with Putin, who assumed the Russian presidency that year, and discussed an existing agreement to withdraw NATO, EU and Russian forces. Russia’s borders of each country in order to ease tensions between the west and the former Soviet Union.

“We had a great conversation, but I was completely unsure of what [Putin] was going to do,” Clinton said. During the meeting, Clinton recalled that Putin had said he would not withdraw his troops from the borders, which his predecessor, Boris Yeltsin, had agreed to do, because he feared that if George W. Bush won the election, the Republican administration would not respect the agreement.

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“He said, ‘I’ve read everything these neo-cons say, and I don’t think they’re going to. I think they’re going to stick it on you,'” Clinton recalled, telling Putin.

Putin asked if Bush could win the election, according to Clinton, who said Bush could win the election but Vice President Al Gore was likely to win in the end.

Russian President Vladimir Putin attends a meeting at the Kremlin in Moscow, Russia, Wednesday, April 6, 2022.

Russian President Vladimir Putin attends a meeting at the Kremlin in Moscow, Russia, Wednesday, April 6, 2022.
(Mikhail Klimentyev, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP)

According to Clinton, Putin said, “OK, if [Gore] wins, he will need a win. So we’ll do this deal shortly after he takes office and he’ll get a little boost, and I’ll get the deal I signed for.”

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Clinton said he told this anecdote to show that “First, Putin was smart. And second, in private, he was honest with me.”

“All these people, they can win for a while,” Clinton said of authoritarian leaders like Putin and Chinese President Xi Jingping. “But they can’t win in the long run because it doesn’t make sense – as the people of Ukraine teach Putin every day. They can win somewhere out there, in whatever they think they can do. in eastern Ukraine, but I don’t think so, not if we all stick together.”

Clinton was speaking at a memorial event for Casey Shearer – the son of Clinton’s longtime friend and adviser Derek Shearer – a Brown University student who died suddenly of undetected heart disease days before to graduate in May 2000.

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The former president also defended his decision to welcome China into the World Trade Organization.

“Did I err in giving them most favored nation status? Clinton asked China. “You can argue about that, but I don’t think given what we knew at the time, because I figured we better have them in a system where at least we could have a legal forum to challenge illegal acts, and where we would at least encourage them to work with the rest of the world.”

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