March 5th, 2014
08:02 AM ET
9 years 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."

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"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. smith

    @Fair- I guess a kid trying to pound the square block into the circle hole.

    March 5, 2014 02:04 pm at 2:04 pm |
  2. Anonymous

    Hitler got so confused in his grave, would like to join the debate when the characters involved to see each other some day.

    March 5, 2014 02:04 pm at 2:04 pm |
  3. ronald e miller

    HRC said ML was a narcissistic loony toon which is kind of woman that bubba is attracted too!
    now HRC said Putin is another Hitler which are signs of her dementia becoming more apparent!

    March 5, 2014 02:04 pm at 2:04 pm |
  4. TiskTiskTisk

    Too bad Hillary.. Losing me as a democrat ... so I will not be voting... for either side that mongers in war I really don't care what Putin does.. he can't live forever and neither do we.

    March 5, 2014 02:06 pm at 2:06 pm |
  5. smith

    @Treebeard- That still isn`t a smoking gun or actual proof that Bush knowling lied about wmd`s..Try again.

    March 5, 2014 02:07 pm at 2:07 pm |
  6. Gemini1971

    Wait a minute I'm confuse I thought she brought that reset push button to reset every thing

    March 5, 2014 02:11 pm at 2:11 pm |
  7. Tom in San Jose

    FINALLY!!! It's about time that someone had the guts to remind Putin that there are a lot of people who remember how WW-II started and that what he has done in Ukraine is a close parallel to Hitler marching into the Sudetenland.

    March 5, 2014 02:16 pm at 2:16 pm |
  8. Ralf Smith

    Is Kosovo similar to what Hitler did?

    Clinton is an independent citizen now, she can do what she wants – and state whatever she wants.

    But what the masses are trying to do – is create an environment of fear, to escalate tensions, to cause a war.

    March 5, 2014 02:18 pm at 2:18 pm |
  9. Dan5404

    Hilary is exactly right. That was my very first thought when Putin pulled this dangerous move. Anyone that has any knowledge of history knows Hitler used exactly the same fake ploy to invade that Putin is using. I also don't believe in war, but strongly agree with the measures being taken by the US, UN and NATO. Putin also knows just how far he can go without truly risking a major war that everyone, including him, would lose.

    March 5, 2014 02:22 pm at 2:22 pm |
  10. k. rudolf

    most people, including American politicians that suggest comparisons with Hitler, have no idea how evil he was. Putin is just fighting for his political survival. The solution here calls for compromise instead of threats. Clinton ought to be silent, Mr. Obama is President, and only he is responsible for American foreign policy; the Senate is there for advise and consent. All others please shut up. This is not the time to stab Mr. Obama in the back to score political points.

    March 5, 2014 02:24 pm at 2:24 pm |
  11. Jim l

    Why do Americans keep allowing this woman to speak for us. She is dragging our once great country further down. People like her do not deserve the right to represent americans. Last I checked only 2 people in the whole country even like her. I just hope that if Russia decides to attack us she is the first they come for.

    March 5, 2014 02:25 pm at 2:25 pm |
  12. James Trainor

    SO what about Bush and Cheney? 60% of Crimeans are Russians and their historical, culturally and linguistically ties are very strong, while Russia also has it navy fleet there and Russia is the major supplier of gas to the Ukraine and the rest of Europe so it really doesnt look nothing at all to what Hitler did.
    What is similar to that is Bush and Cheney invading Iraq for not reason at all and based on lies when Iraq had nothing to do with 911, WMD or OBL. The whole world was telling the USA not to invaded Iraq for those same reasons and folks who were sent there by Bush came back saying the very same. Yet in the process of Bush invasion and attack of a free sovereign land over 16K of our soldiers were killed and over 80,000 maimed and destroyed for life while over 200,000 innocent Iraqi babies, women and men were killed. That is WAR CRIMES any where in the world. So which one is more similar to Hitler's invasion of Poland. And why are Bush, Cheney and their pals free instead of at the Hague for their war crimes?

    March 5, 2014 02:43 pm at 2:43 pm |
  13. Andy

    Yeah, let's just hope the US doesn't start a military presence in counties who speak English.

    March 5, 2014 02:45 pm at 2:45 pm |
  14. musings

    These false analogies came thick and fast with the neocons. Now the "left" is seeing Hitler everywhere but in Svoboda party in Ukraine. What's up? They are the ones trying to force Ukrainians into Europe.

    It appears that Putin is trying to hold onto the Russian Black Sea fleet. They already had bases in Crimea, which is a vital defense port for them.

    These cheap theatrics by American pols have always led to senseless wars.

    March 5, 2014 02:46 pm at 2:46 pm |
  15. Andy

    'Both comments awaiting moderation'.....

    March 5, 2014 02:47 pm at 2:47 pm |
  16. sly

    While it is reassuring to know future President Clinton has a good knowledge of history, it is important to note that Russia has not violated any laws, and is acting within their legal rights.

    No big story here – just another day in the complex world of geo-politics.

    March 5, 2014 02:48 pm at 2:48 pm |
  17. Andy

    Kinda funny how Jim I's comment made it through the 'filter'.

    March 5, 2014 02:48 pm at 2:48 pm |
  18. Francisco Decastro

    There are a lot of parallels going on. There are parallels with the Korean War, Vietnam.... actually it is a complete parallel of the Cold War in general

    March 5, 2014 02:50 pm at 2:50 pm |
  19. Me

    Silence DoGood

    Malory- You just can`t grasp the concept of Independent can you? Maybe its the fact that your anti-Bush talking points don`t work with me since Im an Independent and didn`t vote for Bush. I`ll let you get back to your world of denial.
    "independent" has become the code name for more radical conservative than the GOP. If people were out there really independently making up their mind, they would be voting Tea Party, Green Party, Libertarian, Socialist Party, whatever. Most "independents" I have read or talked to generally are very conservative-libertarian.
    This is code for "I can't accept anyone's else’s opinion that does not agree with mine", such a copout!!!! As I have stated MANY MANY times, I am liberal when it comes to social policies and conservative on fiscal policies but you just keep living in your fantasy world, keep tell yourself whatever you have to in order to sleep at night! I am in fact more liberal then I am conservative but I don’t expect you to understand that, since I am not 100% liberal you will call me a repub or worse. Fact is you and your kind are the least accepting people I have ever come across, if one does not agree with every word you say they are evil, repubs who have not place in the world according to you!

    March 5, 2014 02:54 pm at 2:54 pm |
  20. Robert Martin

    Wolf, you are a good man, but let's call the ace the ace. Already we see the Europeans behaving the same way they did with Hitler and this only embolden him. Putin has a plan, if we don't stop him early he is going to cost us much more than the second world war.

    March 5, 2014 02:55 pm at 2:55 pm |
  21. Fred

    Somebody tells this woman to shut it and remember Hitler invaded their land and they hate that guy more. Don't compare somebody to his enemy, it is the worse psychology and you make a simple case more complicated.

    March 5, 2014 02:56 pm at 2:56 pm |
  22. greg

    our nsa involvement in everyday e-mails from everyday folks is just like hiemlichs campaign as intelligence officer pre-
    "night of of broken glass" .Lots of our own practices are like early hitler-hell my old lady has acted like hitler since we made a child together and has all but turned into the man himself!

    March 5, 2014 02:57 pm at 2:57 pm |
  23. slick will

    Madam Clinton looks like hitler.

    March 5, 2014 02:57 pm at 2:57 pm |
  24. Andy

    CNN moderators, please change my previous text to say countries not 'counties'. Thank you (you offer no such editing and I was typing too fast before I hit 'POST').

    March 5, 2014 03:00 pm at 3:00 pm |
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