‘I do not believe that there was anything we could have done to prevent this,’ says the 42nd US president
“I do not believe that there was anything we could have done to prevent this,” Mr Clinton said during a talk at Brown University on Tuesday.
The question was posed to him by Derek Shearer, who served under the 42nd president as ambassador to Finland. Looking back at Mr Clinton’s time in office, when he worked with Russian president Boris Yeltsin and then briefly with his successor, Vladimir Putin, Mr Shearer asked if the United States and its allies could have done anything differently.
“Well, the short answer is I don’t know, and I’ve spent sleepless nights thinking about it,” Mr Clinton answered.
The former president then recounted how his administration started the process of admitting the Baltic states – Lithuania, Estonia, and Latvia – into the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) in the late 1990s.
A number of conservative figures have blamed this expansion of NATO, an alliance originally designed to defend against the Soviet Union, for Russia’s recent aggression. Tucker Carlson has claimed NATO exists mainly to “torment Vladimir Putin”; Nigel Farage has said the effect of expanding NATO was to “poke the Russian bear with a stick.”
Mr Clinton rejected those arguments.
“It is not true that we did anything to isolate, humiliate or ignore Putin,” the former president said. “That’s the biggest load of bull you’ll ever hear.”
As evidence, Mr Clinton pointed out that during his eight years in office, he met with Russia’s leadership 23 times – 18 times with Mr Yeltsin and five times with Mr Putin.
“The idea that we were trying to jam Russia or isolate them… that’s just not true,” he said.
Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is now in its third month. The war has been a humanitarian catastrophe, killing at least 2,665 Ukrainian civilians so far, by the United Nations’ latest estimate.
In discussing NATO’s impact on the conflict, Mr Clinton quoted the journalist Anne Applebaum, who recently said that if the alliance had not been expanded, “we would be having this fight in East Germany right now.”
“Whether that’s true or not remains to be seen,” Mr Clinton said. “Ukraine needs to prevail.”