Bill Clinton on Russia, Ukraine: ‘Not the End of the World, They Invaded Georgia, Too’

By Penny Starr | May 14, 2014 | 3:15 PM EDT

Caption: Former President Bill Clinton spoke at an economic summit on May 14, 2014 in Washington, D.C. ( Starr)

( – When asked about U.S. foreign policy at an economic summit on Wednesday in Washington, D.C., former Democratic President Bill Clinton said the ongoing unrest between Ukraine and Russia was not good but also not dire, stressing that Russia’s aggression was nothing new.

“It’s not the end of the world,” Clinton told PBS anchor Gwen Ifill.  “They invaded Georgia, too, and took part of that.”

“I don’t agree with this and I think we have to be firm against it, but it’s not the end of the world,” Clinton said.

Clinton made his remarks at an event hosted by the Peter G. Peterson Foundation dubbed “Our Economic Future,” which also featured interviews with New Jersey Republican Governor Chris Christie and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.).

Clinton was introduced as a president who not only balanced the budget but also had government surpluses during his tenure, at a time when Republicans held the majority in both the House and the Senate.

But aside from economics, PBS’s Ifill also asked Clinton about foreign policy and he included in his response his take on the ongoing crisis in the Ukraine that has seen the ouster of the country’s president, violent clashes between pro-Russian factions and Nationalists, and the Crimean Parliament voting to rejoin Russia.

Russian President Vladimir Putin. (AP Photo/RIA-Novosti, Alexei Nikolsky, Presidential Press Service)

“[Russian President Vladimir] Putin wants to reestablish Russian greatness, not [as in] the Cold War, but in 19th century empire terms,” Clinton said. “He believes Russia was badly damaged and humiliated by the collapse of Communism, the end of the Warsaw Pact, the loss of control of their near [empire] abroad.”

“And he sees all these things in zero-sum terms,” Clinton said. “The Ukrainian reformers had a different idea, and most of the Western Ukrainians seemed to agree with them.”

“They said, ‘You know, we really want to be friends with Russia, we want to get along with them,’” Clinton said.  “And if you don’t think they do, look at the map.”

“I mean, would you really want to have a hostile relationship with Russia, if you were located where Ukraine is?” Clinton said.

But these developments aren’t anything new, Clinton said.

“It’s not the end of the world,” the former president said. “They invaded Georgia, too, and took part of that.

“I don’t agree with this, and I think we have to be firm against it, but it’s not the end of the world,” Clinton said.

Russia has occupied more than a dozen countries dating back to World War II and during the Cold War, including Poland, the Baltic States, the Finnish Territories, Romania, and Germany (WWII), and Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria, Poland, East Germany, and Afghanistan (Cold War).