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. Guest

    She is right and Putin is a dog. no respect for hitler, no respect for putty. However, I do not want us to go to war alone (tried that, what a mess – Iraq), if the UN and G8 can make putty bend then I'm all for it, if the UN and G8 agree to attack at equal investments that will work – but no more of this "you are with us or you are against us" stuff, had a lifetime of that in 8 years already.

    March 5, 2014 01:24 pm at 1:24 pm |
  2. wendel

    you go girl. Putin has been accusing the west of being like Hitler and using that as a reason to step in. Russians have long memories and when he invokes Hitler the Russian people go crazy. So turn around is fair play and you right wingers should be supporting the US not letting jerks like Mc Caine undermine the administration at a time like this.

    March 5, 2014 01:25 pm at 1:25 pm |
  3. Richard Dickieson

    On February 16, 1936 the Winter Olympics’ which were held in, Germisch-Partenkirchen, Germany, ended.
    On March 7, 1936 Nazi Germany occupied the Rhineland in violation of the Versailles Agreement that ended World War I. No countries act to stop Hitler’s territory grab.

    On February 23, 2014 the Winter Olympics’ which were held in Sochi, Russia ended.
    On February 27, 2014 Putin’s Russia began the occupation of the Crimea in violation of numerous international agreements. Will anyone act this time or do we wait until things get worse.

    March 5, 2014 01:28 pm at 1:28 pm |
  4. Name

    She's absolutely right.

    March 5, 2014 01:29 pm at 1:29 pm |
  5. smith

    @Silence-How did I know you would chime in. So basically your against anyone that is not a democrat. You call anybody who disagrees with democrats who is not a republican a secret republican. Sounds like you and Malory are twins, just mad because your anti-Bush, anti-gop, and anti-foxnews talking points don`t work with Independents.

    March 5, 2014 01:30 pm at 1:30 pm |
  6. andri

    She is right ! and if world leaders won't stop him now,his next move would be world war. He is really insane.

    March 5, 2014 01:32 pm at 1:32 pm |
  7. TBone

    Shamoononon, Your comprehension of the events leading up to WW II are obviously lacking.Though you may not agree with the politics of this Democratic President,to compare him to a man whose politics killed nearly 50 million people is just plain ignorant.

    March 5, 2014 01:33 pm at 1:33 pm |
  8. Pikeone

    Clinton likens Putin to Hitler? Talk about IRONY.

    March 5, 2014 01:33 pm at 1:33 pm |
  9. The Republican Party Is Dead To Me

    How about the moves made in 2003, by our country. The Bush presidency could very well be characterized in the same way.

    March 5, 2014 01:34 pm at 1:34 pm |
  10. rr

    CNN makes me sick. They report only what they want you to know which is ususally their opinions, never the complete real story. They might as well be on Russia TV.

    March 5, 2014 01:35 pm at 1:35 pm |
  11. TONE

    Hillary Clinton is a perfect example of why we should not have let women out of the kitchen

    That's an ignant statement i just think that the word ignorant is too good to describe you , and your statement

    March 5, 2014 01:41 pm at 1:41 pm |
  12. harold

    Hillary Clinton is right on comparing Putin to Hitler. First Putin went after gays and now he wants to invade Crimea or Ukraine.Sounds a lot like Hitler to me. Hitler said he only wanted to unite germans in Austria and Putin says he only wants to protect russians in Ukraine. Time to set Putin back on his heels. We all need to let Ukraine settle it's own problems and stop saber rattling. I made these same statements last night as I watched the news. By the way, my grandparents were German on one side and Ukrainian on the other. Go Hillary and I'm a republican registered independent!

    March 5, 2014 01:42 pm at 1:42 pm |
  13. Fremen Warrior

    ****Who cares what she says now? She wasin The position as SOS to prevent it getting to this and failed...

    This happened in the last few weeks.
    Clinton hasn't been SOS for over two years, and you are blaming her for this ?
    Maybe her crystal ball is broken ?
    You people are freaking IDIOTS !!!!!!

    March 5, 2014 01:43 pm at 1:43 pm |
  14. Fair is Fair


    @Silence-How did I know you would chime in. So basically your against anyone that is not a democrat. You call anybody who disagrees with democrats who is not a republican a secret republican. Sounds like you and Malory are twins, just mad because your anti-Bush, anti-gop, and anti-foxnews talking points don`t work with Independents.
    It's a tough sell with those 2... even when you agree with them. Which is rare, but I digress.

    March 5, 2014 01:43 pm at 1:43 pm |
  15. Mopery

    Clinton's gone full on Godwin...

    March 5, 2014 01:43 pm at 1:43 pm |
  16. Lewis

    Clinton has a point. Hitler invaded Austria for many of the same reasons that Putin is invading Crimea, and right after the Olympics, again like Nazi Germany. Putin also discriminates against gays, and other minorities in Russia. And he also focuses on extreme nationalistic views. In many ways you could compare him to Adolf Hitler.

    March 5, 2014 01:44 pm at 1:44 pm |
  17. Treebeard



    @Malory- It`s one thing to say the Iraq was based off faulty or incorrect intel. There is no proof that it was based off lies. If you have a smoking gun that it was based off lies, Im all ears.

    Colin Powell admitted to LYING to the UN about yellowcake.
    Thats a start, you want more ?

    March 5, 2014 01:45 pm at 1:45 pm |
  18. rr

    Hilliary is on the right side of history on this. Too many people want to remember the killings that Hitler commanded and not how he commanded the start of invasions. Hitler had a cause. There is nothing more dangerous than a fool with a cause and Putin has a cause.

    March 5, 2014 01:47 pm at 1:47 pm |
  19. Me

    The Real Tom Paine


    Oh Hillary Hillary...You can't just expect to win a rhetorical gain by comparing every leader that is doing things you don't like to Hitler.
    We know....Conservatives have done it every day since the President was elected, and how has that worked out?
    Exactly tom, how has that worked out, do two wrongs make a right??? You slam Repubs when they do this and now you are basically praising, at worse, or siding with, at best, Clinton when she does it?? Seems pretty hypocritical to me, and for the record, I have NEVER compare Obama to the likes of hitler because I don't think it is productive either way, but I do know that my conservatives do.

    March 5, 2014 01:51 pm at 1:51 pm |
  20. Joy

    Clinton knows her history. Some of the comments here are not worthwhile reading . Nomad , you dislike the fact that a woman makes her voice heard .

    March 5, 2014 01:54 pm at 1:54 pm |
  21. rkm

    You are the only one here that is speaking FACTS!

    March 5, 2014 01:56 pm at 1:56 pm |
  22. Joey

    Obama is much more like Hitler.

    March 5, 2014 02:01 pm at 2:01 pm |
  23. FSR

    Mrs. Clinton's right, that guy is a wacko like similar ones in different parts of the world.

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

    Anyone else getting sick of what the Clinton family thinks? How about the thought of more members of the Bush family running for president as well. Is Chelsea next in line. Didn't we fight this out 240 or so years ago when family members got in line to rule....

    March 5, 2014 02:03 pm at 2:03 pm |
  25. Cassandra

    CNN's television coverage of this story is embarrassing. Hillary did NOT compare Putin to Hitler. She said Putin is justifying the invasion of Crimea in the EXACT same way Hitler justified invading the Sudetenland before WWII (which is completely correct). Go read a book Wolf Blitzer and accurately report the news.

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