Vladimir Putin has ‘almost messianic belief in himself’, says Hillary Clinton

Vladimir Putin has an “almost messianic belief in himself” and does not like critics, especially if they are women, the former US secretary of state Hillary Clinton has said.

Clinton recalled that she “had some positive developments” working closely with Putin between 2009 and 2013 when he was prime minister of Russia, but the relationship soured when she criticised the “blatantly crooked” elections which returned him to the presidency in 2012.

Speaking to an audience at the Hay festival, Clinton said her assertion that Russians “deserve to have their voices heard and votes counted” and “an election that meets international standards” prompted protests by tens of thousands of Russians, which Putin then blamed her for.

The former Democratic party presidential hopeful, who lost out to Donald Trump in 2016, said: “Putin does not like critics, especially women critics. Putin then became very adversarial toward me with few exceptions. As we know, despite efforts to say to the contrary, he worked very hard to get Trump elected through all kinds of means.”

Clinton said she had witnessed “his almost messianic belief in himself and what he was destined to be” as well of his “goal of restoring imperial Russia” while working with him. This had prompted her to write memos warning he would become a “threat to Europe and the rest of the world”, although she had hoped that friendly relations with the US would make him “shelve his aggressive ambitions and look to be more cooperative”.

She said: “When he invaded Ukraine I was sadly not surprised. I was very pleasantly surprised at how effective the government of [Volodymyr] Zelenskiy and Ukraine defended themselves.”

She also considered it positive that Nato had come together to supply Ukrainians with weaponry, which confirmed for her “a need to keep the institutions we have and try to make them more effective for the future”. She noted that had Trump been returned to power in 2020, he would probably have pulled the US out of Nato.

Clinton called for the creation of a tribunal similar to those held after the Balkan wars and Rwandan genocide to hold individual Russians accountable for their war crimes, though she acknowledged that it was “always difficult to go after a head of state” unless they were deposed.

Her interviewer, Helena Kennedy, who is among a group of human rights lawyers working to find ways to make Russia accountable for crimes committed in Ukraine, asked whether such a tribunal could open the UK and US to scrutiny of their actions in the Iraq war.

Clinton said: “[It] could, but I think it’s less likely than people imagine.”

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