March 5th, 2014
08:02 AM ET
6 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
soundoff (274 Responses)
  1. Randyk

    And the punchline?

    "So it's a real nail-biter, right now, but nobody wants to up the rhetoric,"

    ahem

    The historical analogy isn't entirely off the mark. But the way she talked here it sounded like she really thought she would be 'off the record.' Seems like a surprisingly clumsy move.

    March 5, 2014 08:54 am at 8:54 am |
  2. mikes

    That would make Obama the new Neville Chamberlain (aka "Never Chainberlin").

    March 5, 2014 08:55 am at 8:55 am |
  3. Pete Zoria

    IMO, she's a straight talker. No diplomatic smoke screen, she speaks her piece, right, wrong or indifferent...I for one admire that not just in a public figure but in anyone! Check your PC at the door and lets speak straight English for a change.
    Is she POTUS material? Well...after the likes of G.W. Bush and her husband and daddy Bush and Ronnie Reagan? I say a definite "YES". Why not? How bad can she be? Compared to the 8 "W" years there's no question in my mind that she'd be just what's needed if/when she has a summit meeting with Putin. Ever wonder what Putin thought of "W"? Well enough of that. Hillary could really stimulate things in DC and that's what we need....some good stimulation in DC.

    March 5, 2014 08:56 am at 8:56 am |
  4. Dave

    This is all very strange to me. What will happen to the Russian economy if they engage in outright theft of western businesses? Who will want to invest in Russia after that? It's a one way ticket to complete isolation and economic ruin.

    Also, this whole 'we have the right to invade anywhere people speak Russian'... I think nations should start outlawing the language. Sounds ridiculous I know, hell, I speak some Russian, but... if that is an excuse for an invasion... if were, say, Lithuania... I would consider outlawing the language. No Russian speakers here, so you have no pretext to invade. I would also considering expelling residents with Russian passports. 'I'm sorry, but your living here puts our nation at risk for invasion, we have to ask you to leave, or renounce your Russian citizenship. We can no longer have Russian residents in this country'

    It's just baffling to me. Denying troops saying those uniforms can be bought at a store....

    In all sincerity, has Putin lost his mind? I no longer believe we dealing a rational person. I think he has had a serious psychotic break with reality. I am not saying this to insult or be flippant... his actions are erratic, and he contradicts himself just hours apart... I really think there is something legitimately wrong with him, medically and psychologically.

    I am not trying to be belligerent or make threats.. what Putin is doing is irrational... and maybe, quite literally insane.

    To the Russian people I would say, I have no gripe with you, but please consider the long term ramifications of what your leader is doing. Is this truly what you want?

    March 5, 2014 08:56 am at 8:56 am |
  5. Il

    hey Hillary, in case people are stupid enough to vote for you. How would you build a relationship with a very important geopolitical player after you called him Hitler? Ignorance of American politicians is limitless, indeed.

    March 5, 2014 08:57 am at 8:57 am |
  6. Dominican Mama 4 Obammy

    She is exactly right in this regard. Hitler several times moved in on sovereign countries to `protect' Germans living in those areas.

    March 5, 2014 08:57 am at 8:57 am |
  7. Hyatt

    Clinton and the USA are closer to Hitler and Nazi Germany than Putin's Russia.

    March 5, 2014 08:58 am at 8:58 am |
  8. Expat American

    The former Secretary of State is correct.
    Whether Putin is waiting for his own Gleiwitz incident for actual armed aggression or whether he is merely using Crimea with it's pro-Russian sentiment as a safety bluff remains to be seen.

    March 5, 2014 09:01 am at 9:01 am |
  9. Jme

    Brilliant comment from the most incompetent secretary of state we have ever had.

    March 5, 2014 09:06 am at 9:06 am |
  10. FreedomStorm

    But she never utters a peep of the countless parallels of Obama and Hitler.

    March 5, 2014 09:14 am at 9:14 am |
  11. Tampa Tim

    George Bush looked into Putin's eyes and saw his soul. Then Putin invaded Georgia. No wonder Putin is a hero to Fox News and the Republican Party.

    March 5, 2014 09:15 am at 9:15 am |
  12. Smitty

    Its just another failure by her. Ben ghazi the reset button and slick willies zipper and people want her for pres ???
    We need a real leader not another door matt !!!!

    March 5, 2014 09:15 am at 9:15 am |
  13. Walrus Jackson

    Wow, this one started with Godwin's Law fulfilled in the main post. I wonder if the amount of posts continues more posts will be about Hitler? Time to update Mr. Godwin.

    FYI Godwin's Law states that the longer on online discussion goes the chance of someone comparing someone to Hitler goes to 1. Basically if you have to compare someone to Hitler you have run out of intelligible arguments and lose. This one may be an exception as Putin's moves to reunite soviet block may be considered similar to Hitler's reunification of divided Germany. Also just like Hitler's early reunification it may be considered positive by some, and in the name of peace they may get away with it. Just need to know where Putin's Poland is.

    March 5, 2014 09:16 am at 9:16 am |
  14. Anonymous

    Hillary is trying to hit the reset button w/o success. SOS.

    March 5, 2014 09:16 am at 9:16 am |
  15. RIchard Long

    And Hillary is officially... ... ... not holding any public office.

    Hillary, mind your own business!

    March 5, 2014 09:18 am at 9:18 am |
  16. Mike MacPherson

    WOW !!!
    Someone finally put 2 and 2 together. !

    March 5, 2014 09:18 am at 9:18 am |
  17. Kelly

    This comparison really doesn't work here in America where some people think providing health care is like Hitler's invasion of Poland.

    March 5, 2014 09:19 am at 9:19 am |
  18. Dave

    This is all very strange to me. What will happen to the Russian economy if they engage in outright theft of western businesses? Who will want to invest in Russia after that? It's a one way ticket to complete isolation and economic ruin.

    Also, this whole 'we have the right to invade anywhere people speak Russian'... I think nations should start outlawing the language. Sounds ridiculous I know, heck, I speak some Russian, but... if that is an excuse for an invasion... if were, say, Lithuania... I would consider outlawing the language. No Russian speakers here, so you have no pretext to invade. I would also considering expelling residents with Russian passports. 'I'm sorry, but your living here puts our nation at risk for invasion, we have to ask you to leave, or renounce your Russian citizenship. We can no longer have Russian residents in this country'

    It's just baffling to me. Denying troops saying those uniforms can be bought at a store....

    What's next? An invasion and occupation of San Francisco's Russian Hill?

    In all sincerity, has Putin lost his mind? I no longer believe we dealing a rational person. I think he has had a serious psychological break with reality. I am not saying this to insult or be flippant... his actions are erratic, and he contradicts himself just hours apart... I really think there is something legitimately wrong with him, medically and psychologically.

    I am not trying to be belligerent or make threats.. what Putin is doing is irrational... and maybe, quite literally insane.

    To the Russian people I would say, I have no gripe with you, but please consider the long term ramifications of what your leader is doing. Is this truly what you want?

    March 5, 2014 09:20 am at 9:20 am |
  19. bill

    What difference does it make. Just find a video to blame.

    March 5, 2014 09:21 am at 9:21 am |
  20. ST

    Hillary is quite right comparing these two scenarios. Hitler used it as an excuse to attack others, so does short-man Putin. One has to ask themselves, were these people in Crimea who Putin says they are Russians and he must protect them, did they move to that area last year, last month or yesterday? Why didn't he go straight to protect them as soon as he was in power? This short-man thinks we have short thoughts too as he is!

    March 5, 2014 09:22 am at 9:22 am |
  21. I OpT OUT

    Everybody's a bunch of Nazis! Agggghhhhhhh

    March 5, 2014 09:25 am at 9:25 am |
  22. vwickert

    I loved it when Mrs. Clinton quoted Sarah Palin about Russia invading Ukraine. Only Mrs. Palin said it over 7 years ago and Mrs. Clinton just discovered it??? She at least is aware of history. Although it does look like she hasn't learned from it, the same as with our POTUS, Mr. "The cold war has been over since the 80"s". At least he has more flexibility now, um, to sit back and watch..
    So, is she changing her name to Neville Clinton or Hillary Rodham-Clinton-Chamberlain. Or is it Barack Chamberlain or John Kerry-Chamberlain(hyphenated for the modern man). All of these main characters pretty much have castrated the USA. And this is what we are left with.

    March 5, 2014 09:25 am at 9:25 am |
  23. seoras

    Typical of the lack of knowledge of Secretary Clinton & the mainstream media to label Mr Putin as 'Nazi' when the true fascists are the Ukrainian ultra-nationalists who seized power in a coup against a democratically elected government that she supports. The majority of these radicals are from 'Svoboda', the extremist, anti-Semitic, anti-gay, anti-Russian Social National Party of Ukraine, led by the anti-Semitic Oleh Tyahnybok & Andriy Parubiy, both of whom now occupy high positions in the new 'democratic' government. Before Ms Clinton & Obama gives their support, perhaps they should read some history & learn whom they support.

    March 5, 2014 09:27 am at 9:27 am |
  24. Miller

    Ladies and gentlemen – the Democrat's candidate for President....LOL

    March 5, 2014 09:27 am at 9:27 am |
  25. Pete

    Putin is just an aging dictator wanting recognision ..He has to keep feeding his enormous ego and this is one instence that might go down in history for him the wrong way..He knows he's wrong but in his demented,delushional mind he's trying to make it seem right..Trouble is when its all over he won't be the one cleaning up his mess,his Russian countrymen will be !!Remember Putin this isn't your 20th century Russia and you're not Stalin...

    March 5, 2014 09:29 am at 9:29 am |
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