Is Putin to blame for MH17 tragedy? Hillary Clinton has harsh words.

Hillary Clinton has again made sharp comments about Russian President Vladimir Putin, saying he is partly responsible for the crash of MH17. In recent months, she has been one of Putin's most vocal critics.

Jerry Holt/The Star Tribune/AP
Hillary Rodham Clinton, right, stands with Gov. Mark Dayton, holding up Clinton's new book 'Hard Choices' at the Common Good Books store last week. She has harsh words for Russian President Vladimir Putin in a CNN interview Sunday.

The 2012 presidential election gave us Mitt Romney, the candidate who was mocked in some quarters for suggesting that Russia was America's greatest strategic adversary.

In 2016, the presidential election might give us someone who makes Mr. Romney's vision of Russian relations seem like sunshine and rainbows: Hillary Rodham Clinton.

The former secretary of State has again opened up about Russian President Vladimir Putin – this time in an interview on CNN's "Freed Zakaria GPS" Sunday morning. And again, she's none too complimentary.

Among the highlights is a pronouncement that Mr. Putin bears at least some responsibility for the crash of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17, which was reportedly struck by a Russian-made antiaircraft rocket fired from territory held by Russian-supplied rebels in Ukraine.

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 also cast herself as something of a Jeremiah in her last days in the Obama administration, warning that President Obama's bid to "reset" Russian relations needed to be reconsidered because of Putin.

In another interview with the Latino-oriented television channel Fusion, she elaborated: "I warned everybody. I sent a memo to the president, I sent another memo on my way out, that I believed Putin was coming back in a much more aggressive way."

Part of this, as Decoder's Peter Grier has noted, is Clinton trying to distance herself from her former boss. Mr. Obama's popularity is low, and 55 percent of Americans disapprove of his foreign policy, according to the RealClearPolitics average of major polls. Saying that she (to some degree) saw this coming helps her fend off Republican criticism that she was part of an administration that got caught flat-footed by Russia's annexation of Crimea.

But at the moment, Clinton's actually not too far out ahead of the administration itself. Obama responded with strong words after the downing of MH17, going as far as diplomatically possible toward laying the blame on Putin's doormat. And the administration has pushed aggressively for Europe to ramp up sanctions against Russia.

Clinton echoed that call Sunday on CNN: "From my perspective – and I have the benefit of not being in the government – if there is evidence linking Russia to this, that should inspire the Europeans to do much more."

Yet Clinton's comments Sunday appear also to speak to something more basic that political calculations. From the moment Russian forces secretly invaded Crimea, Clinton has been one of Putin's most outspoken critics – even to the point of courting controversy.

At a private fundraiser in March, she likened Russia's actions in Crimea and Ukraine to Nazi actions in the Czech Sudetenland before World War II. The basis of those actions has been the claim that an ethnic Russian minority abroad was being mistreated. According to the Long Beach Press-Telegram, she said: 

Now if this sounds familiar, it's what Hitler did back in the '30s. All the Germans that were ... the ethnic Germans, the Germans by ancestry who were in places like Czechoslovakia and Romania and other places, Hitler kept saying they're not being treated right. I must go and protect my people, and that's what's gotten everybody so nervous.

To finish the arc of that line of reasoning, it has lead to the downing of Flight 17.

During the CNN interview, she even played one of Foggy Bottom's favorite parlor games: What the heck is Putin thinking?

"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.

Putin appears to be well-ensconced in his seat as Russian president. Clinton remains, at this early stage, the front-runner for the 2016 presidential election.

Were she to run, one would assume that a new "reset" with Russia would not be in her campaign platform.

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