Democratic vice presidential nominee Tim Kaine said in Tuesday’s debate that Hillary Clinton knows exactly how to take on Russian President Vladimir Putin, even as he acknowledged her much-heralded “reset” of relations with Russia was a total failure.
During her time as secretary of state in President Barack Obama’s first term, Clinton spearheaded a “reset” of relations with Russia, attempting to boost relations with the country following a major standoff over the country of Georgia in 2008. The reset achieved some gains, such as Russian cooperation in sanctioning Iran over its nuclear program.
But by early 2014 it had fallen apart completely due to Russia’s support for Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad, its seizure of Crimea from Ukraine, and its harboring of NSA leaker Edward Snowden.
U.S.-Russia relations are likely at their worst since the end of the Cold War, but even in mid-2014 Clinton maintained it was a “brilliant stroke” intended to achieve only a few limited goals rather than a long-term improvement in relations.
During Tuesday’s debate, though, Kaine acknowledged the reset had been a disaster, but told moderator Elaine Quijano it wasn’t Clinton’s fault despite her intimate involvement.
“Vladimir Putin is a dictator,” Kaine said when asked why the reset failed. “He’s not a leader, anybody who thinks otherwise doesn’t know Russian history and they don’t know Vladimir Putin. Hillary Clinton knows exactly who this guy is. John McCain said ‘I look in his eyes and I see KGB,’ and Hillary kinda has the same feeling.”
Kaine then touted Hillary’s work securing Russian cooperation against Iran, without addressing subsequent problems in Ukraine and Syria.
But Putin had already been the leader (and, in Kaine’s words, “dictator”) of Russia for nine years when Obama took office, and McCain made his KGB remarks in 2007 (McCain was also a sharp critic of the reset). Clinton knowing “exactly who this guy is” didn’t stop her from attempting the reset Kaine himself acknowledges as a failure.
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