It’s a big question, and one that the White House of President Biden has to deal with, sooner or later.
What to do about Russian President Putin.
Unpredictable, inscrutable and menacing — a man in charge of a powerful nuclear arsenal, and one not to be trifled with.
One person who had to deal with him and his formidable regime head-on, was former US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton.
Speaking to Fareed Zakaria on CNN’s GPS Sunday magazine, Clinton did not hold back on how to deal with the former KGB man, saying the US can’t “sugarcoat the damage that Putin has done, both to Russia and to countries and people outside.”
During her tenure, Clinton had attempted a reset with the Russians, only to see it end badly.
According to American intelligence accounts, Putin believed that Clinton had tried to support pro-democracy movements in Russia and decided to take revenge.
It is suspected that that is one of the reasons the Russians interfered in the 2016 US elections — it was payback.
Question is … is it worth it, to try another reset with a man so diabolical?
“The goal is to try to figure out how to rein in and stop the malicious behavior of Russia, in destabilizing countries on its border in Europe, the United States through the election interference and, and so much more,” Clinton said.
“We always have to be ready to find common ground if there is any. So I think, my approach would be similar to what I see happening, which is to sanction Russia over its cyber attacks, over its election interference, making it absolutely clear that they are a bad actor when it comes to their continuing efforts to undermine democracies, in the West particularly, but also to see whether there is any potential for cooperation on climate change.
“For example, on the Iran nuclear agreement, where they are part of the P5+1, looking for those areas, narrow as they may be that we can get some, you know, positive action out of the Putin regime.”
Recent actions by the Russian government — the arrest and sham imprisoning of opposition leader Alexei Navalny, the arrest of protesters across the country and the massing of military forces on Ukraine’s border — also drew harsh comments from the 73-year-old politician.
“I do have to say, however, that the crackdown on Alexei Navalny and his supporters, his lawyer, the organizations that are trying to speak out against the corruption, the thievery, the oppression that marks the current Russian government is deeply troubling,” she said.
“The massing of military forces on Ukraine’s border, a continuing effort to intimidate that country and its government, the undermining of governments through spying and very, very deep espionage networks, like the one that has been disclosed in the Czech Republic … you know, the list goes on.”
The Czech Republic on Thursday ordered Russia to remove most of its remaining diplomatic staff from Prague in an escalation of the worst dispute between the two countries in decades.
The spy row flared on Saturday when Prague expelled 18 Russian staff, whom it identified as intelligence officers.
It said two Russian spies accused of a nerve agent poisoning in Britain in 2018 were also behind an explosion at a Czech ammunition depot in 2014 that killed two people.
“This is not (laughs) a regime that you can take at face value. And so you need very focused efforts to restrain and even punish, where necessary, look for areas of cooperation, if any, are possible,” Clinton said.
Asked if President Biden made a mistake, categorizing President Putin as a “killer” during a public interview, Clinton backed the new man in the White House.
“I think he told the truth. And I think that if he had equivocated or dodged the question that would have also had repercussions,” she said.
“You know, there are 10s of thousands, probably millions and millions of Russians, who know they’re being badly governed, who want more … want to be part of the broader modern world who would leave Russia if they could, in order to live in the United States or Canada or Europe, seeking not only freedom, but opportunity.
“And so for a United States President to have brushed aside what everyone knows to be true, would have been demoralizing.
“Now, he still has to deal with them. We know that he talks to him on the phone (and) they may end up meeting. We did that through the Cold War. We did that with the Soviet Union.
“We did that with, you know, communists who had been part of Stalin’s purges.
“But that doesn’t mean we should sugarcoat the damage that Putin has done, both to Russia and to countries and people outside.
“I just think that we’ve got to call it for what it is and give some give some hope and support even by long distance to the many, many Russians who know they deserve better.”
Clinton also commented on the looming and controversial decision by the Biden admininistration to pull out US troops from Afghanistan, calling it a “wicked” problem.
“Well, it’s been made. And I know it’s a very difficult decision. This is what we call a wicked problem. You know, there are consequences, both foreseen and unintended, of staying and of leaving … the President has made the decision to leave.
“And I think that our government has to focus on two huge consequences — one, the potential collapse of the Afghan government and a takeover of Afghanistan by the Taliban, probably with a resumption of civil war in certain parts of the country, but a largely Taliban run government at some point in the not too distant future.
“How do we help and protect the many, many thousands of Afghans who worked with the United States and NATO, but worked with American and other NATO connected contractors who stood up and spoke out for women’s rights and human rights.”
Recently, dozens of Afghans who worked as interpreters in often deadly conditions with the US military expressed fear of being targeted by the Taliban after American troops head home, and they urged Washington not to leave them behind.
Calling themselves “forgotten war heroes,” some of the interpreters complained that many of their contracts with US and NATO forces had been terminated abruptly.
Thousands of Afghan interpreters have left the country after getting visas from the US and other NATO countries.
But permits have dried up in recent years, with some US officials arguing that a jihadist posing as an interpreter could slip in that way.
A report released earlier this month by Brown University said in 2019 there was a backlog of about 19,000 applications from Afghanistan — a number higher than those who had received visas in the two decades of conflict.
“I hope that the administration in concert with the Congress will have a very large visa program, and will begin immediately to try to provide that channel for so many Afghans to utilize so that they are not left in danger,” said Clinton.
“And of course, the second big set of problems revolves around a resumption of activities by global terrorist groups, most particularly al-Qaeda and the Islamic State.”
The sticking point continues to be the Taliban’s unwillingness to separate itself from al-Qaeda, and providing refuge to international terrorist groups, Clinton said.
“I mean, it’s one thing to pull out troops that have been supporting security in Afghanistan supporting the Afghan military, leaving it pretty much to fend for itself. But we can’t afford to walk away from the consequences of that decision.”
As for President Biden’s performance over the first 100 days, Clinton admitted to being a hard grader, but gave the 78-year-old Democratic leader an “A” — largely because he has restored an air of respect to the office.
“He has once again, embodied and modelled what a president should act like in the Oval Office in the White House. in the world at large, with dignity with purposefulness with care for what he says and how he treats people.
“His attention to detail and the team that he has surrounded himself with who are experienced at how you make the federal government work.
“The passage of the American rescue plan to get money into the pockets of Americans who are still suffering economically, is absolutely the right thing to do and it got done, he was single minded about it.
“And finally, man … getting 220 million shots into arms.
“Getting the vaccines out there getting that supply chain fixed using the federal government through FEMA and the National Guard to be part of the team and states and localities just shows what competent government looks like, which is why he has such high approval ratings across the board.
“I mean, we now have a mature experienced president and thank goodness we do.”
Sources: CNN, Military.com, Agence France-Presse, Reuters