During a lengthy speech in which he explained his justifications for recognizing the independence of the separatist republics in Ukraine, Russian President Vladimir Putin claimed to have had a surprising discussion with President Bill Clinton in 2000. Putin revealed that he explicitly asked Clinton if the United States would be receptive to the idea of Russia joining NATO during NATO’s post-Soviet expansion into Eastern Europe.
Putin mentions NATO talks with Clinton
It’s hard to imagine any American politician delivering the kind of speech Putin gave on February 21, in which he spent roughly an hour offering his detailed historical explanation for the Russian government’s position in the current crisis.
Vice President Kamala Harris promptly responded with a short, rambling statement which inadvertently revealed her ignorance of Eastern European history. It was a sad contrast, to say the least.
Putin discussed the mistakes of the Soviet era which moved internal administrative borders and left large populations of ethnic Russians in neighboring countries like Ukraine when they became independent.
Most importantly, the Russian president spoke about NATO. He reiterated his view that NATO has become an explicitly anti-Russian alliance which threatens his national security.
To emphasize this point, he acknowledged that he asked Bill Clinton about how receptive the alliance would be about allowing Russia to join given that it no longer had a communist regime.
Reports differ on what exactly transpired between Clinton and Putin during their discussions on the subject, but they clearly never amounted to anything and Russia has continued to be apart from America’s international circle of friends.
20 years of failed diplomacy
Even if Clinton’s administration did not react with as much coldness as Putin claimed in his speech, his presidency has been criticized for failing to befriend Russia when the United States had a chance.
Whether its fears are justified or not, Russia has felt increasingly threatened by the expansion of NATO, which has left an array of U.S. military bases and ballistic missiles pointed at Moscow.
The revived cold war between the United States and Russia is entirely unnecessary, but it was arguably made inevitable when NATO chose to continue its anti-Russia focus even after the collapse of the Soviet Union.
Had Clinton put in the necessary effort, he might have secured a place in NATO for Russia or at least a bilateral alliance which would have promoted a closer relationship.
As it happened in the ensuring two decades, Russia under Putin has become far stronger and has pursued a relationship with China instead of the United States.
For a brief time, public opinion in each country was favorable towards the other. Because of failed diplomacy and hyperbolic propaganda, all of that good will has been squandered by politicians and our two countries are locked in another unnecessary rivalry.