March 5th, 2014
08:02 AM ET
10 months ago

Clinton compares Putin's Ukraine moves to Hitler, later recalibrates

Updated 6:45 p.m. ET, 3/5/2014

(CNN) - Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton sought on Wednesday to explain her remarks comparing Vladimir Putin's military intervention in Ukraine to Adolf Hitler's European aggression ahead of World War II.

The former secretary of state told an audience in Los Angeles that her comments on Tuesday were an attempt for "people to have a little historic perspective."

"I'm not making a comparison certainly, but I am recommending that we perhaps can learn from this tactic that has been used before," Clinton said during a question and answer session with Lynn Vavreck, a professor of political science and communication studies at UCLA.

"What I said yesterday is that the claims by President Putin and other Russians that they had to go into Crimea and maybe further into eastern Ukraine because they had to protect the Russian minorities ... is reminiscent of claims that were made back in the 1930s when Germany under the Nazis kept talking about how they had to protect German minorities in Poland, in Czechoslovakia and elsewhere throughout Europe."

In her answer to Vavreck's question, Clinton did not use the name Hitler and instead used the phrase "Germany under the Nazis."

Opinion: Hillary, Putin's no Hitler

Clinton's initial comments at a Long Beach fundraiser came amid simmering tensions in Ukraine's Crimean peninsula.

Ukrainian officials and Western diplomats accuse Russia of sending thousands of troops into the region - a claim Russia has denied, while maintaining that it has the right to use military force there if necessary to protect ethnic Russians.

"Now if this sounds familiar, it's what Hitler did back in the 30s," Clinton said Tuesday, according to the Long Beach Press-Telegram, which had a reporter in the room for the closed event.

"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," Clinton was quoted as saying.

In describing Putin, Clinton said, "When he looks at Ukraine, he sees a place that he believes is by its very nature part of Mother Russia."

Hitler justified his invasion of neighboring countries by saying they were efforts to protect ethnic Germans. Hitler annexed neighboring Austria and Czechoslovakia's Sudetenland in 1938, one year before invading Poland, which sparked World War II.

Clinton's spokesperson did not respond to emails requesting comment.

Although she's America's former top diplomat, Clinton's comments on world affairs generate intense interest in part because of her position atop polls for the 2016 Democratic presidential nomination.

While the conflict didn't dominate all of her remarks on Wednesday, she dedicated the first few minutes of them to define her position on Ukraine.

Clinton made clear she supports the Obama administration's call for Russia "to respect its obligations and to refrain from the threat of use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of Ukraine."

"As President Obama has said, the Russian intervention in Crimea violates international law and it is therefore of deep concern to the United States and our allies," Clinton said.

"All parties should avoid steps that could be misinterpreted or lead to miscalculation at his delicate time," she said.

Clinton later described Putin as "a tough guy with a thin skin" whose political vision is "of a greater Russia" whose neighbors have stronger Russian ties.

"We want to find a path toward de-escalation and a return to a process that leads to election in Ukraine that represents the will of the Ukrainian people," Clinton said. "And it is important for us in this country to recognize the complexity of the situation as it evolves and to support the very careful diplomacy that the president and secretary Kerry and others are undertaking."

Since leaving office early last year, Clinton has largely shied away from talking about many of the foreign policy issues she once addressed.

Clinton was the face of the Obama administration's "reset" in relations with Russia while at the State Department.

On Wednesday, Clinton said she was "very clear eyed" about what could be achieved with Putin and also noted that she and Obama wanted a number of things from the Russians, namely resigning a strategic arms control treaty.

Clinton, also a former first lady and former senator from New York, says she'll decide on a second White House bid by the end of the year.

Since the fall of the pro-Russian government in Ukraine, Clinton has not been afraid to use tough rhetoric to describe Putin.

Last week, in a closed press event in Orlando, Florida, Clinton said that the Russian leader would "look seriously" at consolidating Russia's position in eastern Ukraine if the opportunity presented itself.

Clinton said Putin is a man who "sits as the absolute authority now in Russia and it is quite reminiscent of the kind of authority exercised in the past by Russian leaders, by the czars and their successor Communist leaders."

Yesterday's $1,500 a plate fundraiser at the Boys & Girls Club was not Clinton's only event of the day. The former secretary of state also addressed a large audience at the annual gala for the Association of Corporate Counsel America, Southern California Chapter.

According to Amjad Mahmood Khan, a lawyer who was in the room, Clinton did not make similar comments comparing Russia and Nazis but did talk extensively about Ukraine and Putin.

Khan also said that Clinton defended the Obama administration's actions on Ukraine against criticism delivered by Sen. John McCain, who on Monday described Obama's foreign policy as "feckless" and somewhat responsible for the crisis in Eastern European country.

McCain, however, was supportive of Clinton's most recent headline-generating comments on Putin.

On Wednesday afternoon, McCain tweeted "She's right on this comparison" and included a link to the Long Beach Press-Telegram story.

Republican Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida also backed Clinton's comments.

"I think the point that she was making, that in terms of the claims that they needed to move into a neighboring country to protect an ethnic group tied to them is certainly similar to the argument that Hitler made in the 1930s," he said in an interview with the Washington Post.

Clinton is on a three day trip to the West Coast and Canada.


Filed under: 2016 • Hillary Clinton • Ukraine • Vladimir Putin
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