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Hillary Clinton: Putin 'bears responsibility' in downing of MH17

By Jason Miks, CNN
updated 2:11 PM EDT, Sun July 27, 2014
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Hillary Clinton says Vladimir Putin "indirectly" responsible for MH17 downing
  • The former secretary of state says Europe needs to stand up to Putin
  • She describes Putin as "a very arrogant person to deal with"
  • Suggests Israeli actions in Gaza not war crimes

(CNN) -- Russian President Vladimir Putin bears at least some responsibility for the shooting down of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17, former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Friday.

"I think if there were any doubt it should be gone by now, that Vladimir Putin, certainly indirectly -- through his support of the insurgents in eastern Ukraine and the supply of advanced weapons and, frankly, the presence of Russian Special Forces and intelligence agents -- bears responsibility for what happened," she told CNN's Fareed Zakaria in an exclusive interview that will air Sunday.

Hillary Clinton explains Putin
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Clinton's comments come just over a week since Flight MH17 crashed in eastern Ukraine, killing all 298 on board. Pro-Russian militants have been accused of downing the plane using Russia-supplied armaments and of interfering with the subsequent investigation at the crash site.

Who are Ukraine's pro-Russia rebels?

U.S. President Barack Obama last week called the crash a "wake-up call for Europe and the world that there are consequences to an escalating conflict in eastern Ukraine," a view Clinton echoed in urging Europe to go further.

"We have to up the sanctions that are required. The United States has continued to move forward on that, Europe has been reluctant," Clinton told. "They need to understand they must stand up to Vladimir Putin."

Her comments came as the Pentagon warned that Russia is preparing to transfer more powerful weaponry into Ukraine, a move it said could happen at any time.

Putin has argued that Ukraine bears significant responsibility, saying in a statement that if military operations had not resumed in eastern Ukraine on June 28, "this tragedy probably could have been avoided."

Clinton on Obama's response to Ukraine
Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 crashed in mid-July in eastern Ukraine. Here, a woman walks with her bicycle near the crash site on Saturday, August 2. Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 crashed in mid-July in eastern Ukraine. Here, a woman walks with her bicycle near the crash site on Saturday, August 2.
Malaysia Airlines jet crashes in Ukraine
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Malaysia Airlines jet crashes in Ukraine Malaysia Airlines jet crashes in Ukraine

However, Clinton joined a chorus of Western voices laying much of the blame at Moscow's door, and she lamented that the United States and Europe had been "disabused" of their earlier hopes over the so-called reset in U.S.-Russia relations that was announced during President Obama's first year in office.

"He [Putin] has a strategic plan in mind, the Eurasian Union, which would be in competition to Europe," Clinton said. "His continuing efforts to intimidate Europeans -- not just through energy, but through interfering in elections, putting money behind buying press outlets in European countries ... trying to discourage countries like Ukraine being able to join the European Union."

How rebels in Ukraine built up an arsenal capable of reaching the skies

"And if the United States and Europe don't present a united front, I think Putin is the kind of man who will go as far as he can get away with. I think he is still smart enough and cautious enough to be pushed back. But there has to be a push in order to make that happen."

'He's a very arrogant person to deal with'

Clinton also shared her thoughts on her interactions with Putin during her stint as Obama's secretary of state.

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"He's very tough. He's a very arrogant person to deal with, which I think is a combination of this vision of Russia and some fundamental insecurity, because when you are dealing with him, he often acts as though he could care less," Clinton said.

"...There was a G20 summit in Los Cabos (Mexico, in 2012) and our President had a meeting scheduled. He kept President Obama waiting 40 minutes before he showed up. He sat down. It was a very small meeting on both sides of the table. We, at the time, were very hopeful -- not realistically so, but idealistically so -- that we could get more cooperation from Russia to slow down (Bashar) al-Assad and what he was doing in Syria," she said. "Putin could not have looked more bored, more discomfited, and never apologized for being late."

"So then, of course, he wanted a summit in Russia. He wanted to play the host. And my advice to the president was don't go chasing after him. We're not sure of what his real intent is."

Opinion: Putin, just evil enough

Has Israel committed war crimes?

In a wide-ranging interview, Clinton also discussed the ongoing violence in Gaza as Israel's ground incursion entered its second week. Asked about the warning Wednesday by U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay that war crimes may have been committed, and whether Israel has used excessive force, Clinton said she did not agree with the war crimes assessment.

"I think that the Israelis are in a very difficult position. Hamas, we know, embeds missiles, embeds command-and-control units in civilian areas," she said. "Now, some of that is just the geography. It's a very small area, very densely populated. But some of that is a deliberate choice by Hamas."

However, she said, "too many people have died and too many of them are clearly innocent civilians, even children."

Opinion: War crimes in Gaza conflict? Let court decide

Palestinians in Gaza celebrate a ceasefire between Israel and Hamas on Tuesday, August 26. After more than seven weeks of heavy fighting, Israel and Hamas agreed to an open-ended ceasefire that puts off dealing with core long-term issues. Palestinians in Gaza celebrate a ceasefire between Israel and Hamas on Tuesday, August 26. After more than seven weeks of heavy fighting, Israel and Hamas agreed to an open-ended ceasefire that puts off dealing with core long-term issues.
Israel-Gaza crisis
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Photos: Israel-Gaza crisis Photos: Israel-Gaza crisis

More than 800 people have been killed in the more than two weeks of violence in Gaza, as diplomats scramble to establish a ceasefire. Palestinian leaders called for a day of rage as protests erupted in the West Bank following a strike this week on a U.N. shelter. Israel's security cabinet on Friday unanimously rejected a proposed one-week humanitarian ceasefire, Israeli Intelligence Minister Yuval Steinitz told CNN. Secretary of State John Kerry said later that there was a framework for a cease-fire, but that more needed to be done to make it happen.

"They [the Israelis] understand the terrible box that they find themselves in because they want to end the rockets. And unfortunately, since the last ceasefire, the Hamas leadership has felt cornered. And the only way out of that corner, in their opinion, was to get better, more accurate, longer range rockets.

"And they've been digging tunnels, apparently constantly, that can come up inside Israeli territory. And the Israelis have a perfectly legitimate objective to try to destroy as much as of the rocketry as they can and to destroy the tunnels."

Israel security cabinet rejects one-week Mideast cease-fire

How do we get a cease-fire to end the bloodshed in Gaza?

Watch Fareed Zakaria GPS Sundays at 10am and 1pm ET. For the latest from Fareed Zakaria GPS click here.

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