Former President Bill Clinton once praised Vladimir Putin’s “enormous potential” in a phone call with then-Prime Minister Tony Blair of Britain, according to new transcripts of their phone conversations released by Clinton’s presidential library.
“We’re trying to resolve this bilateral issue with Russia and kind of get this Chechnya thing resolved,” Clinton told Blair on October 13, 1999, referring to Russia’s air campaign over Chechnya in August 1999 that escalated into the Second Chechen War.
“Putin has enormous potential, I think,” Clinton went on to say. “I think he’s very smart and thoughtful. I think we can do a lot of good with him.”
Putin served as prime minister of Russia from 1999-2000 after serving 16 years as an officer in the KGB — the main security agency in the Soviet Union that was later succeeded by the Federal Security Service of the Russian Federation (FSB). He became president in 2000, just as Clinton was wrapping up his time in office.
Clinton’s call with Blair would not be the only time the former president spoke highly of his Russian counterpart.
“He is highly intelligent, deeply, deeply patriotic in terms of Russia, but he sees it more in terms of the greatness of the state and the country than what happens to ordinary Russians,” Clinton told Fareed Zakaria in March 2014, shortly after Russia annexed Crimea.
“The one thing I will say about him is he was always pretty transparent,” Clinton said. “He never pretended to be what he wasn’t. … If he wants to keep pushing the envelope and going in now to eastern Ukraine, I don’t know what’s going to happen. It’s a very dangerous situation and it’s unnecessary.”
The transcripts between Clinton and Blair were released shortly after Clinton hit the campaign trail earlier this week for his wife, 2016 Democratic presidential front-runner and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
Hillary Clinton was a key player in President Barack Obama’s “reset” policy with Russia, which aimed to cool tensions with the nation following its 2008 invasion of Georgia, a former Soviet republic.
Still, she noted in a CBS interview in 2014 that she “was among the most sceptical of Putin” during her time in the State Department, “in part because I thought he had never given up on his vision of bringing ‘Mother Russia’ back to the forefront.”
“I think that what may have happened is that both the United States and Europe were really hoping for the best from Putin as a returned president, and I think we’ve been quickly, unfortunately, disabused of those hopes,” she added.
Thousands have died since war erupted in eastern Ukraine between Ukrainian government forces and pro-Russian insurgents in the spring of 2014. Putin continues to deny that Russia ever sent soldiers to bolster the Ukrainian rebels in the east.
In September 2015, Putin launched a surprise military intervention in Syria on behalf of the embattled Syrian president Bashar al-Assad, a Russian ally.
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