Former United States President Bill Clinton claimed on Tuesday that nothing he could have done would have warded off Russian President Vladimir Putin's invasion of Ukraine.

"I do not believe that there was anything we could have done to prevent this," Clinton said during a talk at Brown University in Rhode Island Tuesday for the 20th Annual Casey Shearer Memorial Lecture Series.

During his talk, Clinton denied that his administration did anything to isolate Russia or alienate Putin personally during the 1990s when the Clinton administration supervised an expansion of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) following the collapse of the Soviet Union. "It is not true that we did anything to isolate, humiliate or ignore Putin. That's the biggest load of bull you'll ever hear."

According to Clinton, Putin's plan to build a "clepto-state" and dismantle democracy was not evident during his first presidential term. "By the end of his second term, it was clear that he wanted to stay for life. I do not believe that anything we could have done would have done it."

The 42nd U.S. president's decision to expand NATO has been criticized amid Russia's two-month-old invasion of Ukraine. It began as a Cold War-era agreement among European countries and the U.S. to impede the expansion of the Soviet Union. Putin has claimed that NATO's expansion eastward and the potential of Ukraine being part of NATO have led to his assault on Ukrainian cities.

Rajan Menon, author of "Conflict in Ukraine: The Unwinding of the Post-Cold War Order," claimed that Clinton's administration cut Russia out of the new European system following the economic collapse after the dissolution of the Soviet Union. However, during his speech on Tuesday, Clinton firmly said that Russia would have been welcomed into NATO. "There was nothing preventing them (Russia) from joining NATO if they thought that their biggest security threats would come from non-state actors."

Clinton said he personally met with Putin ahead of the 2000 U.S. presidential election to discuss an existing agreement to withdraw NATO, EU and Russian forces from each country's borders to relieve tensions between the West and the former Soviet Union.

"We had a great talk, but I was left completely uncertain about what [Putin] was going to do," Clinton said. At the meeting, Clinton recalled Putin stating that he would not withdraw troops from the borders as his predecessor Boris Yeltsin had agreed to. He was worried that if George W. Bush won the election, the Republican administration would not obey the agreement.

The former president also defended his decision to welcome China into the World Trade Organization.

Clinton was a guest speaker at a memorial event for Shearer — the son of Clinton's longtime friend and advisor, Derek Shearer. Shearer was a Brown University student who suddenly died due to an undetected heart condition days before graduating in May 2000 — two months before his 22nd birthday.

Former US President Bill Clinton
Former US President Bill Clinton speaks during a press conference hosted by Empire State Realty Trust to formally announce the publication of the new "Empire Building Playbook: A Guide to Low Carbon Retrofits" at the Empire State Building on April 21, 2022 in New York City. Photo by Angela Weiss/AFP via Getty Images

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