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. emskadittle

    If anyone is boosting Putin, its all of you republican parrots demeaning the President

    March 5, 2014 09:31 am at 9:31 am |
  2. justuandme

    Comeon Clinton - did you not vote to invade Iraq for WMD?

    March 5, 2014 09:32 am at 9:32 am |
  3. liberal disease

    She is another useless leftist, who thinks that her mere presence was going to change the minds of thugs.

    March 5, 2014 09:32 am at 9:32 am |
  4. more2bits

    That's what I said the minute I heard about the takeover. Clinton the copy-cat.

    March 5, 2014 09:33 am at 9:33 am |
  5. Bob R

    She's a flake. An Ex has been.

    March 5, 2014 09:33 am at 9:33 am |
  6. EdwardTr

    Yes it does sound similar but that is as far as it goes. Putin might walk away with Crimea (a stup:d move on Russia's part to give it away in the first place) and there is no doubt he would like to walk way away with the whole Ukraine. Something like that would be a great legacy feather in his cap. However the primary two reasons behind the invasion is the encroachment of NATO and to show back home that protests like the one in Ukraine will not be tolerated in Moscow. Right now we need to be patient and not to be too punitive as to not create a situation where taking eastern parts of Ukraine would bring no further sanctions we could impose. Ukraine, if it stays whole will eventually join NATO, it is just a matter of time and all sides know it.

    I am not a fan of this comparison because Hitler's vision was eventual extermination of all Slavic peoples with exception of limited stock for slave labor, far different than the goals here.

    Hilary's statement is a smart move targeting the American audience and her voice is added to a chorus nothing more. I am a big supporter of this lady and this is another pointer that she is running in 2016.

    March 5, 2014 09:36 am at 9:36 am |
  7. sonny chapman

    Hillary is right. Let's only hpe Europe sees it & is willing to make sacrifices early instead of letting this fester. America can't afford to always be bailing out Europe because they won't.

    March 5, 2014 09:42 am at 9:42 am |
  8. Jim

    Who cares what she says now? She wasin The position as SOS to prevent it getting to this and failed. Remember the botched Rest button! Her comments today? Really at this point what difference does it make?

    March 5, 2014 09:42 am at 9:42 am |
  9. derykhouston

    Unbelievably stupid remark to compare Putin's Ukraine moves to Hitler.
    Thank goodness we now have the internet and the main media can't control the message. It is easy to get our hands on the facts and come to a more rational conclusion of the facts.
    Clinton is out of date. She can't control the message. The world can see the hypocrisy of the west lecturing Russia on international law.
    Examples: America and the west's invasion of Iraq. America and the west's invasion of Afghanistan. America and the west invasion of Libya.
    International law has been made a mockery of by the west.

    March 5, 2014 09:42 am at 9:42 am |
  10. gl remote

    Hillary the hawk? Her hubby let two American embassies get destroyed which emboldened OBL. She is suppose to now have a bigger set than Bill?

    March 5, 2014 09:42 am at 9:42 am |
  11. ryan

    OMG! Clinton and I finally agree on something! So sad that it has taken 25 years.

    March 5, 2014 09:43 am at 9:43 am |
  12. Obammy's dream

    "What does it really matter now",someone should of told her...

    March 5, 2014 09:43 am at 9:43 am |
  13. CATX

    Who cares what a has been hag thinks... Please go away.

    March 5, 2014 09:46 am at 9:46 am |
  14. Really?

    Wow, A former U.S. secretary of state can't contradict the facts on the ground presented by Russia and so immediately resorts to Reductio ad Hitlerum. These are sad times we live in when ostensibly respectable American diplomats engage in such laughably puerile posturing. Such a shameless exhibition of intellectual bankruptcy on the part of the Obama Administration. I want my votes back.

    March 5, 2014 09:47 am at 9:47 am |
  15. GOP = Greed Over People

    She is correct, Hitler justified invasions of other countries to "protect German citizens".

    Putin used "to protect Russian citizens" as his excuse to take over Crimea".

    Seems. "they have weapons of mass destruction" was already taken as an excuse for invading a soverign country.

    March 5, 2014 09:49 am at 9:49 am |
  16. The Real Tom Paine

    Its funny to see the Right defend the ex-KGB man: what's next for them, re-interpreting Mein Kampf and putting a positive spin on it?

    March 5, 2014 09:50 am at 9:50 am |
  17. Bill Willy

    Wow, that's helpful. Call the guy Hitler. Not only do these comments ignore the other circumstances in the late 1930s, they also sound juvenile and petty. These are the kinds of short-sighted, narrow-minded comments that are driving our country apart today.

    March 5, 2014 09:50 am at 9:50 am |
  18. Standleyslowey

    She learn from al gore how to spue non truth and inacrecies , at this time what difference does it make. Ask the parants of the four dead American families . Keep lying it's what your good at. Americas need a leader not a talking head.

    March 5, 2014 09:53 am at 9:53 am |
  19. Ron Gaynor

    The parallel with Germany's behavior just prior to WWII was the first thing that ocurred to me, and I am suprised that it has taken so long for a prominent figure to draw the same analogy. I am also genuinely suprised that Russia, which suffered the most at the hands of the Nazi's, has not been more senistive to this and adopted a different rationale or approach to protecting their interests. It is depressing to see how little we have learned from the past.

    March 5, 2014 09:53 am at 9:53 am |
  20. Tampa Tim

    You baggers do know that Sarah made no predictions about Ukraine, but did read off a teleprompter what the McCain camp wrote.

    March 5, 2014 09:53 am at 9:53 am |
  21. MikeinMT

    Incredible that HC can actually blame anyone but herself for a failure of this administration to "overcharge", I mean "reset", Russian relations. Clinton is hailed as an accomplished Sec of State, yet under her watch we've seen the Middle East implode because of weak and disastrous US foreign policy. Line them up: Israel, Egypt, Iran, Pakistan, Afghanistan (don't forget that was the right war"), Syria, and now Ukraine ( I exclude N Korea from the list because the leader the insane). Compounded by the "Clinton War on Women" coming both from Bill's sexual assaults to Hillary's revenge motivation, and its clear to see that she deserves only the angst of all Americans.

    March 5, 2014 09:58 am at 9:58 am |
  22. Tampa Tim

    gl remote
    Hillary the hawk? Her hubby let two American embassies get destroyed which emboldened OBL. She is suppose to now have a bigger set than Bill?
    You are aware of the attacks under W of 9-11 (3000 dead) 13 embassy attacks (50 dead) , Iraq and Afghanistan (4500 soldiers killed, 44 thousand wounded, hundreds of thousands of civilians killed) Georgia.

    March 5, 2014 09:59 am at 9:59 am |
  23. Gurgyl

    Brainless Right Koch disease is so rampant without even thinking. Republican garbage was the one that put USA financial awkwardness, these thugs talk further? Nonsense.

    March 5, 2014 10:00 am at 10:00 am |
  24. antony

    Seriously ill woman.

    March 5, 2014 10:00 am at 10:00 am |
  25. Name hernan santos

    That was similar to what Philippine President Pnoy Aquino said about China grabbing a small island very near to the Philippines. China like Hitler.

    March 5, 2014 10:02 am at 10:02 am |
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