Hillary Clinton has repeatedly sought to distinguish herself from Donald Trump by characterizing herself as a strong defender of U.S. interests, values, and allies in relations with Russia. Secretary Clinton correctly assesses Putin as a “bully,” the stakes involved in regions of U.S.-Russian tension like Syria and Ukraine, and the importance of America and its allies jointly confronting him. However, Clinton’s rhetoric regarding Putin and Russia is inconsistent with her tenure as Secretary of State. The “reset” in U.S.-Russian relations over which Clinton presided as Secretary of State wrought significant and lasting damage to U.S. strategic interests and had a particularly destructive effect on our Central and Eastern European allies, contributing to a crisis of deterrence in Europe. If she is elected president, we hope Secretary Clinton adheres to the spirit of her recent comments, moves to substantially strengthen U.S. alliances in Europe, and avoids the old patterns that she set in U.S.-Russian relations as Secretary of State.
Clinton’s repeated criticisms of Russian aggression are a tacit admission that her reset strategy was a failed foreign policy. She misjudged the Russians by showing weakness and the Russians have systematically exploited this opening for more than seven years. Secretary Clinton vastly overstates the results of the reset in U.S.-Russian relations and fails to acknowledge its heavy price on U.S. relationships with Ukraine, Georgia, Moldova, and other nations in the post-Soviet space; U.S. defense commitments in Eastern Europe; and U.S. support for democracy and civil society in Russia.