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. Dutch/Bad Newz, VA -aka- Where's Our $24 Billion?

    Now if there is any comparisons to be made to Hitler, Putin fits the role.

    March 5, 2014 08:13 am at 8:13 am |
  2. smith

    This is not helpful at all, Clinton should know better. Putin can easilt throw this back in her face by just bringing up Egypt. This a clear sign of bad leadership and this could possibly be the next potus..smh.

    March 5, 2014 08:15 am at 8:15 am |
  3. George

    Hillary says "No one wants to up the rhetoric right now", so she will by likening Putin to Hitler. Not even close, and please do not pretend that the U.S. has never sent troops into another country to protect Americans there, and please do not pretend that the U.S. did not invade another country on a, as Kerry put it, a "trumped up pretext".

    March 5, 2014 08:23 am at 8:23 am |
  4. salty dog

    A pony tail, really?

    March 5, 2014 08:26 am at 8:26 am |
  5. Jan Nappylotto

    But Hillary did so well finding the people responsible for the "spontaneous group of protestors" that killed a US Ambassador. She did catch that filmmaker responsible for the YouTube movie.

    Hillary... butt out.

    March 5, 2014 08:27 am at 8:27 am |
  6. Steve, New York City

    Putin's actions are shocking. This is a guy who has been blocking a resultion on Syria b/c he wants to sell weapons to Assad. He recently voiced his support for bigoted, awful rules against the LGBT community - and now the guy invades Crimea just after hosting the olympics? Putin is a dangerous hypocrit.

    Even as these things are terrible, Hillary Clinton making such a ridiculous comparison does nothing. Putin is not advocating genocide or blatantly talking about one race's superiority over another (in sharp contrast to that frightening lady who teaches at Yale). Therefore, in this case, Hillary makes a stupid comparison that doesn't help anyone – but maybe it will help her score points with Netanyahu.

    March 5, 2014 08:28 am at 8:28 am |
  7. tomasocat

    Hilary is my choice for president but she is horribly wrong using the term Hitler in any reference to Putin and to a country that suffered more than any American can imagine during WW II . Hilary, you still have my vote but reconsider statements that would seem to come from the mouth of Sarah Palin. Vote Democratic

    March 5, 2014 08:29 am at 8:29 am |
  8. Dean

    Obama is perfect for the role of Neville Chamberlain...Community Appeaser.

    March 5, 2014 08:31 am at 8:31 am |
  9. Tyler

    I wish it was Hilary Clinton who was leading this nation.

    March 5, 2014 08:32 am at 8:32 am |
  10. Rick Patel

    Hillary is senile & demented. By 2016, she probably won't recognize her own family, if they ever come to visit her.

    March 5, 2014 08:33 am at 8:33 am |
  11. moli

    hillary..please. the election is still 18 months away. give it a rest.

    March 5, 2014 08:36 am at 8:36 am |
  12. ryan050973

    Like Hitler, Putin presents an upside-down view of the world in which small and weak states are mortal threats to the most powerful and heavily armed. In 1938-39, Hitler demonized first Czechoslovakia and then Poland as threats to the national security of Germany, before invading and laying waste to each.

    March 5, 2014 08:42 am at 8:42 am |
  13. Dominican mama 4 Obama

    "Hillary reportedly said..."
    Responsible journalism at it's best.
    Did she or did she not say it?
    Hillary, these comments are not what we need at this time.
    Tenuous. The situation with Putin is tenuous.
    We're not here to be the match that lights this s hit up and makes it go BOOM!!
    Come on babe... Lord.

    March 5, 2014 08:42 am at 8:42 am |
  14. Jessica McGwin

    Well I know a thing or 2 about Hitler. The US currently has the highest population in prison out of any nation in the globe. Hitler did that. The US currently have the highest missing persons than any nation in the globe. Hitler also used that tactic. The United States has placed FEMA camps across the US. Hitler also did that. The United States has lied to the American people on nearly everything. From Obama care to infrastructure. Hitler also did that. The United States has secret courts for secret trials so to reminiscent of Hitler. Hitler allowed the stand down on populations for the intention of eliminating possible opposition to his agenda. Stand down Hillary. Hitler engaged in mass extermination with out the knowledge of the people. Hitler. If the United States believes that the world does not see the likeness to the recent strategist with in US political structures reminiscent of Hitler? Clinton Every dog smells its own dirt first.

    March 5, 2014 08:43 am at 8:43 am |
  15. Gurgyl

    -we all know Russia doesn't have Bread to eat, impose sanctions and involve EU, EU exports to Russia are more, Imports are less. They tackle–we will be spectators from far. Defensive move need to be taken here. We should not put boots there.

    March 5, 2014 08:44 am at 8:44 am |
  16. Patrick

    Putin will not give up the Ukraine. The ports are too important. Even with the lease for decades that is in place Putin does not have faith that Russia will have access to the Black Sea unless it controls the land leading up to it.

    March 5, 2014 08:47 am at 8:47 am |
  17. Bob

    And Hitler also contrived the justification for the invasion of Poland and Norway – part of the reason for which von Ribbentrop was sentenced to death in the Nuremberg trials. Some apparent similarities to Iraq perhaps? That's the problem with stretching principle for one's own ends.

    March 5, 2014 08:47 am at 8:47 am |
  18. Don Parker

    Romanis did not have any ethnic germans, just shows how ignorant she is. Hitler made claims on Austria, Czecholslavkia, and Poland. But not Romania. This is why she won't make a good president. She is clueless.

    March 5, 2014 08:47 am at 8:47 am |
  19. K Harrington

    Hillary certainly sounds presidential when she talks. I really enjoyed reading her insight.

    March 5, 2014 08:48 am at 8:48 am |
  20. Michael C Summers

    And Hilary Clinton is an expert not only of European history but also European military history. This may impress the typical uninformed American, but is otherwise to little use to the discussion. On the one hand this idiot female talks about lowering the rhetoric and on the other compares Putin to Hitler. Rank stupidity.

    March 5, 2014 08:50 am at 8:50 am |
  21. Derrick North

    Premise #1: Power does what it wants (within its sphere of influence).

    Recently, the United States has invaded Iraq and Afghanistan based on questionable intelligence and moral imperatives in order to gain influence in the Middle-East region. Not so recently, the United States has morphed its own territorial expansion with a war against Mexico to acquire Texas and other territories, war against Native Americans for supremacy in territories, Civil War to prevent territorial shrinkage, wars in Vietnam, Korea, Philippines concerning expanding foreign territory and influence.

    We are comparatively very lucky that the North American region has been much more stable for us, compared with Hitler's Europe or now Russia's post-soviet emancipated states, after enduring our own growing (or shrinking) pains.

    Even as I am a faithful American, I and others don't trust what the politicians or media say. They are trying to vilify Putin; but Putin is a strong man, and we can safely, fearing or not fearing, admire that from a safe distance.

    With the minimum amount of required respect, I say, Obama and Clinton need to shut up about Ukraine's democracy and focus more on our own broken one at home.

    March 5, 2014 08:52 am at 8:52 am |
  22. Sergio

    It's the truth.

    March 5, 2014 08:52 am at 8:52 am |
  23. Anonymous

    "So it's a real nail-biter, right now, but nobody wants to up the rhetoric" . . . like comparing your adversaries to Hitler.

    March 5, 2014 08:52 am at 8:52 am |
  24. Tari Torch Sweeney - Shaker Heights, OH

    I am really hoping that Hilary did NOT say that. Not that she is incorrect, but with this type of "stand-off", it doesn't become a potential Presidential candidate, and past Secretary of State (no less) to make this type of comment. She, above all, should know the nature of not rattling cages during these shaky moments of negotiations. It sounds like something Bill would say, and no problem there because he is not in the running for anything, nor is he making policy right now (not that Hilary is).

    March 5, 2014 08:53 am at 8:53 am |
  25. Cecil

    ""... but nobody wants to up the rhetoric," she said according to the report. "Everybody wants to cool it in order to find a diplomatic solution and that's what we should be trying to do.""

    But Hillary you just upped the rhetoric by comparing Putin to Hitler.

    March 5, 2014 08:54 am at 8:54 am |
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