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Putin invaded Ukraine this time because nobody stopped him the last time: Clinton

OTTAWA — Russia's current invasion in Ukraine happened because the world didn't do enough to respond when they did it before, former U.S. secretary of state Hillary Clinton said Friday in Ottawa.
Hillary Clinton appears on stage at the Clinton Global Initiative, Tuesday, Sept. 20, 2022, in New York. The former U.S. secretary of state is set to take the stage at the Liberal party convention. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP/Julia Nikhinson

OTTAWA — Russia's current invasion in Ukraine happened because the world didn't do enough to respond when they did it before, former U.S. secretary of state Hillary Clinton said Friday in Ottawa.

And failing to stop Russia now would also be "disastrous in terms of unleashing Chinese aggression," she said.

"It is in our interest to stop them," Clinton said, as a keynote speaker at the Liberal policy convention in Ottawa.

Clinton was sharing a stage with Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland for a wide-ranging discussion that heavily focused on the threats to democracy and human rights in both Canada and the United States.

Clinton said when Russian President Vladimir Putin invaded Georgia in 2008, "we all sat him down, we gave speeches about it." 

"We, you know, expressed our absolute opposition, but nobody really did much. Think of the lesson Putin took from that."

Then he invaded Ukraine the first time in 2014, "and again it was 'Oh my gosh, we wish he wouldn't do, it's really fortunate, but we've got other things we've got to focus on, other places that we have to pay attention to.'"

"And the message Putin took from that was that he can get away with invading other countries and interfere with elections and buy his way to influence all in his great quest to restore Russian greatness."

The only solution, she said, is Ukraine has to win and that means like-minded nations must send everything they can to Ukraine to help them do that.

Freeland agreed and said it's not just about Russia.

"The single strongest message of deterrence we can send to China is a decisive Ukrainian victory that says to all the world's dictators, 'You know what, democracy is prepared to fight back and democracy can actually win.'"

Clinton also brought with her warnings that Canada will not be immune to the attempts to turn back the clock on human rights, and in particular, reproductive rights, that are happening in the United States.

Last year, the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the Roe v Wade abortion rights ruling that allowed for legal abortions.

"Make no mistake about it, in our country there is a very significant historical struggle going on, about whether we move forward or the clock is turned back," said Clinton.

And she said some of that debate is being fuelled by misinformation and disinformation campaigns, including by politicians who have started to see democracy as a nuisance to getting what they want.

"And I would predict that you're going to have some of that, you know, in the next election whenever it is for you because there are forces in your own country that are trying to figure out whether they can tinker with the clock and maybe turn it back a little," said Clinton.

Clinton was enthusiastically received by the crowd of about 3,500 people in town for the Liberal convention. Another 500 or so were expected online. 

It is the first in-person policy convention for the Liberals since 2018 and likely the last before the next election. Many Liberals wanted the convention to help the party regroup and recharge after an exhausting and difficult few years.

They got some of that Friday from former prime minister Jean Chrétien, who before Clinton took the stage, led the Liberals on a walk down memory lane of the legacies Liberal governments have left.

He listed medicare, official language rights and gun control laws among them, but got the largest and loudest ovation for the legalization of same-sex marriage.

Liberals, said Chretien, must never lose their social conscience.

"When you stick to your values, you cannot go wrong," he said. "That has been my experience all my life."

The Liberals' inclusion of Clinton on the program came in part as a way to draw more people to the convention, and give them a sense they got their money's worth. 

But the day before Clinton's speech, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau borrowed from some of Clinton's messaging as a presidential candidate in 2016, attempting to draw a sharp contrast between what he said was a positive, progressive Liberal vision for Canada's future — and the darker, more divisive one offered by his main political rival, Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre. 

That narrative echoes the Democrats' approach to challenging former president Donald Trump, who beat Clinton in the 2016 election and is now running for the Republican ticket again. 

Liberal MP Rachel Bendayan, who introduced Clinton and Freeland, said Clinton's appearance came because Freeland called to invite her personally. Freeland and Clinton have been close since they met when Clinton was secretary of state.

"She has inspired a lot of women to get involved in politics … to really have their voices heard … and that will speak to a lot of women at the convention," said Bendayan in an interview.

Trudeau was absent from the evening Friday, boarding a plane to fly to London for the coronation of King Charles on Saturday.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 5, 2023. 

Mickey Djuric and Mia Rabson, The Canadian Press