On Monday, Russian President Vladimir Putin showed contempt for America’s diplomatic efforts by disclosing a disputed account of a conversation with then-president Bill Clinton in Moscow in June 2000.
The account, shared during an interview posted on Twitter by the Western Journal, presents Clinton as ignorant of regional history and issues, and cold to Putin’s overture for Russia to engage in talks regarding the possibility of joining NATO.
“I’ll tell you something I’ve never talked about publicly,” Putin said during his interview. “During his visit to Moscow in 2000, I asked Bill Clinton how U.S. would view Russia’s NATO membership. I won’t reveal the details, but the reaction was extremely restrained.”
The comment was part of Monday’s speech where Putin rationalized Russia’s incursion into Ukraine.
However, in the summer of 2000, The New York Times depicted the encounter between the two world leaders very differently.
“Mr. Clinton … used a speech accepting a prestigious European award to appeal to western Europeans to admit Russia, eventually, to both NATO and the European Union,” the Times reported.
In 2017, The Associated Press reported still another version of the Putin-Clinton encounter. The A.P. reported Putin’s recollection:
“During the meeting, I said: ‘Let’s consider an option that Russia might join NATO,’ Clinton said ‘Why not?’ But the U.S. delegation got very nervous.”
A December report by Cato Institute’s Ted Galen Carpenter notes that the Clinton administration pushed Russia further from the West.
“The Clinton administration’s arrogant, utterly tone-deaf policy wasted the opportunity for a lasting rapprochement between the West and Russia. When the 1990s drew to a close, the momentum toward a new cold war was well underway, and it has grown steadily worse over the following decades,” Carpenter wrote.
In the report, Carpenter notes former U.S. Ambassador to the Soviet Union Jack F. Matlock Jr’s impressions of how Clinton’s foreign policy and NATO expansion efforts impacted relations with Russia:
“The effect on Russians’ trust in the United States was devastating. In 1991, polls indicated that about 80 percent of Russian citizens had a favorable view of the United States; in 1999, nearly the same percentage had an unfavorable view.”
NATO expanded significantly during the 1980s–1990s, engulfing former Soviet strongholds including the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, Romania, Bulgaria, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Albania, and Croatia.
“Obviously, the more it did to stabilize the situation in central and Eastern Europe and bring them into the West, the more it antagonized the Russians,” James Goldgeier, an American University professor, told NPR.
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