Former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said Tuesday that the U.S. must do more to encourage energy independence in Europe to guard against further aggression by Russian President Vladimir Putin.
"What Putin did is illegal; it is against international law," Clinton said during a speech in Montreal a short time after Putin signed treaties with Crimea's Moscow-backed leaders appropriating the region, including its naval port of Sevastopol, after a weekend referendum.
"This is a clash of values, and it's an effort by Putin to rewrite the boundaries of post-World War II Europe. And if he's allowed to get away with that, then I think you'll see a lot of other countries either directly facing Russian aggression or suborned with their political systems — so they're so intimidated that, in effect, they are transformed into vassals, not sovereign democracies."
Speaking before the Board of Trade of Metropolitan Montreal, Clinton said the U.S. and Canada must work closely as they prepare for Putin's next phase, which she predicted would be "a lot of probing and testing."
She warned that Putin's rationale for invading Crimea — the fact that the region is home to many ethnic Russians and Russian speakers with close ties to Russia — could be extended not only to other parts of Ukraine, but to Estonia, Lithuania and Latvia.
Canada and the U.S. must offer "thoughtful analysis," she said, "as to how we can deter further aggression against free people, and how we can be smart about not triggering that aggression and eventually some kind of conflict that might get out of control."
"We don't have to be rattling sabers and all of that, that's not useful," said Clinton, who is mulling a 2016 run for president. "But people need to get moving in protecting themselves against future intimidation."
In addition to tough sanctions on Putin, Clinton said, the U.S. and its allies need to put "money on the table" to ensure that the new leadership of Ukraine creates an inclusive, elected government: "We have got to do a better job in supporting a government in Kiev."
She called for a renewed focus on weaning key European countries from their dependence on Russian energy sources, which she said has given Russia "the ability to intimidate."
Clinton noted that while she was at the State Department she helped create the U.S-European Union Energy Council to encourage European nations to find other sources of oil and gas. "There's been some progress, but not enough," she said.
"How far this aggressiveness goes, I think, is really up to us," she said during a question-and-answer session before the Montreal Chamber of Commerce.
Without specifying what the U.S. role would be, she said she would like "to see us accelerating the development of pipelines from Azerbaijan up into Europe" and looking for ways to speed up internal domestic production in Europe. She cited Poland's recent moves to explore hydraulic fracturing as a promising development.
"Really go at this in a self-interested, smart way," she said. "The Russians can only intimidate you if you are dependent upon them."
Asked whether she believed the U.S. was entering another Cold War, Clinton said she hoped not. "Obviously nobody wants to see that. I think that's primarily up to Putin."