U.S. Democratic presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton, who has argued she would be stronger on foreign policy than rival Barack Obama, stumbled over the name of the likely new Russian president on Tuesday while predicting he would not be an independent leader.
When asked at a debate whether she knew the name of the certain successor to President Vladimir Putin — Dmitry Medvedev — Clinton struggled to get it out.
“Medvedev — whatever,” she finally said.
Obama, who fielded a second question on the issue, did not pronounce the name.
In a campaign where the New York senator and former first lady has stressed she is ready to serve as president from the first day, as opposed to Obama, the scene was reminiscent of past campaign debates where foreign policy missteps have hurt presidential candidates.
That included the current president, George W. Bush, failing to remember the names of some foreign leaders in the 2000 campaign.
In Tuesday’s debate, Clinton and Obama were critical of Bush’s policies on Russia. Clinton said Putin would be pulling the strings, even though Medvedev is set to be elected as his successor as president next weekend.
“I can tell you that he’s a hand-picked successor, that he is someone who is obviously being installed by Putin, who Putin can control, who has very little independence,” she said.
“This is a clever but transparent way for Putin to hold on to power, and it raises serious issues about how we’re going to deal with Russia going forward.”
Obama, who has argued that Clinton’s experience has not translated into good judgment, criticized Bush for neglecting the U.S.-Russia relationship after first saying he had seen Putin’s soul.
“(Bush) then proceeded to neglect our relationship with Russia at a time when Putin was strangling any opposition in the country, when he was consolidating power, rattling sabers against his European neighbors, as well as satellites of the former Soviet Union,” Obama said.
He said Medvedev “is somebody who was hand-picked by Putin.”
“Putin has been very clear that he will continue to have the strongest hand in Russia in terms of running the government,” Obama said.
Putin, a former KGB officer, has not held back about his feelings about the former U.S. first lady.
“A state official must at least have brains,” he snapped at a press conference earlier this month when asked about Clinton’s comment that former KGB officers do not have souls.