Former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Friday that Ukrainian rebels committed an act of terrorism when they downed Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 with a missile.
“Yes, it is a form of terrorism,” she said in an interview with Fusion’s Jorge Ramos. “When you have armed militants, aided and abetted by a major country like Russia, able to use surface-to-air missiles to bring down a commercial airline, that is a form of terrorism.”
The strike by pro-Russian separatists killed all 298 people aboard the plane. U.S. intelligence officials told media outlets that Russia “created the conditions” for the incident by arming and training fighters in eastern Ukraine.
“I don’t know what was in their minds. I assume, or at least I’d like to assume, they thought it was a Ukrainian military airline,” Clinton said. “But they were equipped by the Russians, they were trained by the Russians, there may have even been Russians on the ground with them. And the result was this horrible attack.”
President Obama has been critical of Russian President Vladimir Putin in the wake of the crash, saying that he’s “directly responsible” for ensuring that the separatists cooperate with the investigation into the incident.
Ramos asked Clinton, a potential presidential candidate, whether the American stance toward Putin has been too weak and if she bears any responsibility for the current state of affairs in Ukraine as the U.S.’s former top diplomat.
“No I don’t,” she said.
Clinton defended the Obama administration’s effort to “reset” relations with Russia in 2009, saying that it led to the renewal of a key nuclear arms treaty and international sanctions against Iran.
“We did a reset and we got something for it,” she said.
Clinton said she warned in 2011, when Putin announced he would seek a return to the presidency, that he could cause instability in Europe.
“I warned everybody, I sent a memo to the president, I sent another memo on my way out, that I believed Putin was coming back in a much more aggressive way,” she said.
Even taking into account Putin’s hostility toward the West, Clinton said that “we could not have predicted at that time the steps he would take to annex and occupy part of another country,” referring to his military intervention in Crimea.
“The underlying mentality of Vladimir Putin is very aggressive, and he is trying to control his borders. So the general view of him is not surprising,” she added. “The specifics and his willingness to arm these insurgents and enable them to do things like shoot down the Malaysian airline — I think that has been somewhat surprising.”
Clinton also pinned blame on former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych, who caved to Russian pressure against aligning with the European Union. That decision triggered massive street protests in the capital of Kiev, which turned violent.
“Yanukovych should not have been such a coward, but he turned out to be one,” she said.
It’s unfair, however, to blame the tensions in Eastern Europe on any one individual, Clinton said.
“I don’t think it’s anybody’s fault,” she said. “We would love to have Russia be a modern nation and a real democracy. Unfortunately, that’s not Putin’s vision and that’s what he is acting out right now.”