Former President Bill Clinton on Wednesday accused Russian President Vladimir Putin of attempting to “re-establish Russian greatness,” warning world leaders they are perhaps not dealing with a rational foreign-policy thinker.
“Putin wants to re-establish Russian greatness — not in Cold War terms,” Clinton said during a question-and-answer session the Peter G. Peterson Foundation’s annual Fiscal Summit on Wednesday. “In 19th century empire terms.”
Some of Putin’s recent comments have stirred concern within foreign-policy circles. Over the past few weeks, he has repeatedly referred to regions making up southeast Ukraine as “Novorussia,” or “New Russia” and he has said Russia has a right to intervene on behalf of ethnic Russians living in those areas.
In a Washington Post op-ed last week, Russian-American journalist Masha Gessen referenced a March 18 speech in which Putin “clearly indicated he believes that borders drawn even earlier — right after the revolution of 1917 — can and should be redrawn.”
“In other words, he positions contemporary Russia as the heir to the Russian Empire as it was constituted under the czars,” she wrote.
Gessen also notes that Putin does not see Ukraine as an independent country. He sees part of Ukraine as rightfully part of Russia and part of it that is ripe for the taking by western European countries.
“Parts of today’s territories were in Czechoslovakia, parts in Hungary, parts in Austria, parts in the Austro-Hungarian Empire, parts in Poland,” he said during an annual televised address to the nation in April.
Since Russia’s move to annex the Ukrainian region of Crimea in March, the Obama administration has also accused Putin of acting according to terms of a different century.
“You just don’t in the 21st century behave in 19th-century fashion by invading another country on completely trumped-up pretext,” U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said in early March. President Barack Obama said after the annexation was complete that sending troops in and taking a piece of land is “not how international law and international norms are observed in the 21st century.”
Less than two months after Russia’s annexation of Crimea, separatists from the eastern regions of Donetsk and Luhansk held referendums in which they said citizens voted to secede from Ukraine. Separatist leaders from both regions now want to join Russia.
Clinton and Putin’s presidencies did not overlap extensively, however the pair did meet while both were in office. Putin became Russia’s president in 2000, the last year Clinton was in office in the U.S. Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Bill’s wife, led the so-called Russian “reset” policy in 2009, when Putin was briefly out of power at the start of the Obama administration. Hillary Clinton said in March that Putin believes his mission is to “restore Russian greatness.”
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