Putin could get ‘squishy on democracy’ : Former US President Bill Clinton told Tony Blair

Washington: Former US President Bill Clinton, during his years in the White House, hailed Vladimir Putin as having “enormous potential” with whom a “lot of good” could be done but suspected that the Russian President may get “squishy on democracy”, according to newly released documents.

Fifteen years almost to the day since former President Clinton left office, a newly released batch of documents from his library offer a fresh look at his later years in the White House even as his wife, Hillary Clinton, seeks to win the post for herself.

The documents contain transcribed phone calls and meetings between Clinton and Tony Blair, the then British prime minister and perhaps Clinton’s best friend among foreign leaders, the New York Times reported.

Russia is one area where Clinton, who was the US President from 1993 to 2001, made judgments he would certainly not embrace on Friday. “Putin has enormous potential, I think,” Clinton was quoted as saying after the emergence of the new Russian leader. “I think he’s very smart and thoughtful. I think we can do a lot of good with him,” he said.

At another point, Clinton said, “His (Putin’s) intentions are generally honourable and straightforward, but he just hasn’t made up his mind yet. He could get squishy on democracy.” Blair says that the Russian leader felt that ‘he was not understood’ in the West — a complaint the Russian leader continues to make.

The 500 pages of documents begin with Clinton calling the new prime minister hours after his 1997 victory and end in late 2000 as the president was preparing to hand over the White House to George W Bush.

They discussed the 2000 presidential election repeatedly and the departing president expressed a mix of liberal scorn and professional respect for Bush’s performance against Republican rivals like Senator John McCain and the Democratic nominee, Vice President Al Gore.

“One reason Bush is doing so well is because he criticised one thing on the right,” Clinton said on October 13, 1999, days after Bush chided his party for budget cuts that hurt the poor. “He is making people think he is saving them from the right. But it’s a fraud because he is really for them on everything else.

I have to figure out how to expose the fraud that Bush is the new Clinton, establishing a new Republican Party like I made a Democratic Party. It’s helping Bush but it is killing Al,” he said.

A few months later, Clinton told Blair, “Bush is a skilled politician, but he is not ready to be president — maybe not ever, certainly not now.”