In April 1994, then-President Bill Clinton received a letter from former President Richard Nixon, who offered Clinton “wise counsel, especially with regard to Russia.”
History professor Luke Nichter discussed the March 21, 1994 letter in the Wall Street Journal and now looks to have been prescient. Nixon was forthright in his assessment of the political climate in Russia, saying that he expected ties between Moscow and Kyiv to worsen and that a leader like Putin was possible. After returning from a two-week tour to Russia and Ukraine, Nixon, then 81 years old, penned the letter.
Nixon said, “The most important foreign policy issue the nation will face for the rest of this century is the survival of political and economic freedom in Russia.” The young democracy he witnessed under former Russian President Boris Yeltsin, he warned Clinton, was in jeopardy. Nixon reluctantly concluded that since the December elections, Yeltsin’s condition had drastically worsened, and his days of uncontested rule in Russia were short.
Nixon predicted that ties would worsen between Russia and Ukraine, labeling the current situation in Ukraine as “highly explosive.” If things get out of hand, as Nixon warned Clinton, “it will make Bosnia look like a PTA garden party.” The former president urged Clinton to increase the size of the American diplomatic mission in Kyiv, saying that he had heard from American companies that the embassy was “understaffed and inadequately led.”
Nixon had no idea who would succeed him in the White House. Russia has not produced any leader on par with Boris Yeltsin. Just five years before Putin’s Russian nationalist government took root, he warned Clinton that a “credible candidate for president” may emerge from a nationalist and populist surge in Russia.
It’s clear from the letter that Nixon has some animosity against career diplomats. During his time in the White House, he discovered that some of his finest choices, including his trip to China in 1972, were taken under opposition from or without the support of most foreign service officers. Nixon encouraged Clinton to choose his path, independent of his advisors.
Long after, Clinton would gratefully recall Nixon’s words of wisdom. He often wished he could call President Nixon and get his take on things, especially regarding issues with Russia in 2013.