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. dorothy

    Funny then that self-confessed Hitler admirers are in that newly installed Ukrainian 'government' that Hillary obviously supports.

    March 5, 2014 10:04 am at 10:04 am |
  2. GOP = Greed Over People

    Some of the comments, indicate the Southern GOP low info voter and cons, needs to watch more of the History and Military Channels and less of Honey Boo Boo and the Duck Dorks.

    March 5, 2014 10:08 am at 10:08 am |
  3. Really?

    How unbelievably unhelpful from a person with no current government standing. This explains why she was such a Diplomatic failure.

    March 5, 2014 10:08 am at 10:08 am |
  4. Malory Archer


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


    Based on lies that the liars telling the lies KNEW were lies.

    March 5, 2014 10:10 am at 10:10 am |
  5. abmri60

    Svoboda Neo – Nazi party is capable of winning the 2015 elections.

    March 5, 2014 10:11 am at 10:11 am |
  6. The Real Tom Paine


    Funny then that self-confessed Hitler admirers are in that newly installed Ukrainian 'government' that Hillary obviously supports.
    In what positions are they located? The Ukrainian government has made it very clear that the neo-Nazis that were instigating a lot of the violance are not in positions of influence. BTW, weren't these the same ones that had their picture taken with McCain and Lindesy Graham recently? Allegations without proof are about as credible as Putin's assertions of violant threats against ethnic Russians in the Crimea.

    March 5, 2014 10:12 am at 10:12 am |
  7. The Real Tom Paine

    -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.
    The analogy is accurate, and when it comes to using the word Hitler, its the Right that has been carpet-bombing the airwaves with that word ever since January 2009.

    March 5, 2014 10:14 am at 10:14 am |
  8. dawn


    How did you miss the part where Hillary Clinton said there was no reason to think that Putin was as irrational as Hitler? Or the part where she said that the similarity between Putin's actions and Nazi Germany's is what's making everybody so nervous? It's almost like you want to make this story more exciting. Maybe you can get Jake Tapper to "report" the above in as incendiary manner as possible and then mumble the rest of what she said in the millisecond before he goes to commercial.

    March 5, 2014 10:15 am at 10:15 am |
  9. Malory Archer


    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.


    Kinda sounds like she's taking a page from the rightwing thug playbook as THEY'VE trotted out the comparison beteween President Obama and Hitler on every issue from the ACA to the Keystone XL pipeline since he's taken office. In fact they do it on such a regular basis that it's become SOP.

    March 5, 2014 10:17 am at 10:17 am |
  10. KS

    Hilliary is correct and shares my initial reaction. The rest of the PC and historically ignorant world is allive and well!

    March 5, 2014 10:17 am at 10:17 am |
  11. g

    just like her the terrorist came from canada –NAZI,S RIGHT

    March 5, 2014 10:17 am at 10:17 am |
  12. canadaabc

    Her comment referring to Putin as Nazi is absolutely right.. Top it all, Putin is the nowaday Stalin.

    March 5, 2014 10:19 am at 10:19 am |
  13. McShannon

    Comparing anyone to Hitler is hardly diplomatic or even smart. Posturing will solve nothing except further deteriorate an already dire situation. Hillary doesn't at this time represent the USA in any capacity so her remarks while meant to focus some light on her brilliance actually dim my perception of her wisdom.

    March 5, 2014 10:20 am at 10:20 am |
  14. dave

    Clinton should take this opportunity to re-do alll of America's trade deals. Certainly all foreign business interests are now in jeopardy, as they have been all along. American taxpayers are not obligated to maintain a huge military in order to protect business interest overseas, as they give themselves huge tax breaks, and leave the people with the huge debt. If they want the huge military, they should at least be required to pay for it, not give themselves huge tax breaks leaving the masses with the tax burden. Critics have always cautioned about doing business overseas, we shouldn't now be required to shoulder the burden of confiscation when they were warned all along. It's just part of the risk of doing business overseas, and having bad trade deals that encourage overseas trading at the cost of the American economy. In the current discusssions about downsizing the military, it should be pointed out to them about the dangers of trade and bad trade deals, as well as the cost of maintaining a huge military, and they should be willing to belly up if they want the huge military, not advocate for one, while they vote themselves huge tax breaks again.

    March 5, 2014 10:21 am at 10:21 am |
  15. KeninTexas

    Clinton is right with this comparison. This is history repeating itself and if we didn't learn the first time, we'll surely have a repeat lesson along with the consequences.

    March 5, 2014 10:21 am at 10:21 am |
  16. The Real Tom Paine


    How unbelievably unhelpful from a person with no current government standing. This explains why she was such a Diplomatic failure.
    Name a recent conservative diplomatic success in the last 20 years that did not involve parsing and lying about WMDs. Name one. Has there been one?

    March 5, 2014 10:25 am at 10:25 am |
  17. Marc

    You just couldn't keep your big mouth shut with the "Hitler" comments could you Hillary? In the face of international stress you want to send campaign messages. Only a self absorbed political hack would resort to such name calling when a tempered yet, firm approach is in order. I can only hope that the American people see right through you for what you really are. You're finished and we don't want you or your fellow Dems in the White House. Get a new job.

    March 5, 2014 10:25 am at 10:25 am |
  18. Freeman

    When us invade Irag, Afghanistan and Libya is that not Hitler like.America set bad precedent for this world.

    March 5, 2014 10:26 am at 10:26 am |
  19. Beth

    Hilly was Sec. of State for four years and what? She created this mess. She's no Condi Rice.

    March 5, 2014 10:27 am at 10:27 am |
  20. GOP = Greed Over People

    "nobody ever asks for its opinion so why does it keep giving it especially when its always wrong? shut up and get back to private life before someone slams you in prison you traitor!"

    How aptly stated, with regards for how we "libtards" hold what's her face, in such high regard.

    At least, HRC is not posting her stream-of-consceinceness babble on FB like some 11 year old tween!

    March 5, 2014 10:27 am at 10:27 am |
  21. cuisinemanager

    Wow, talk about changing Hillary's recent history and words, this article is clearly a.......................lets save Hillary's credibility piece. The media does not understand that people are waking up to false, misleading articles that lie by omission.
    People want Hillary about as much as people want another Bush! It is just the media that wants Hillary and not because she would be good for Americans but because she is the only one they think can win. We already did that with Obama and that did not work out too well!

    March 5, 2014 10:28 am at 10:28 am |
  22. Professor Jon

    I don't always agree with Hillary, but on this, she is absolutely right. Some even in Russia are calling Putin, the new modern day Hitler. If we sit idly by, and just engage in a war of words, dictator Putin will swallow up the entire Ukraine.
    Next will be Poland. We need a cohesive foreign policy against Russia based on strength. Putin will not listen to us, when he still considers are leaders to be weak, feckless.

    March 5, 2014 10:30 am at 10:30 am |
  23. Malory Archer


    Hilly was Sec. of State for four years and what? She created this mess. She's no Condi Rice


    condi "nobody could have imagined they would use airplanes as weapons even though we insulted our Italian hosts by DEMANDING that all air and ground traffic within 100 km of Torino be shut down, the ports closed and the dauphin prince be lodged on a heavily guarded vessel in the harbor because we're afraid someone might use aircraft as weapons during the August 2001 G-8 Summit" rice?

    condi "I'm gonna go shoe shoppin' and take in a couple of broadway shows while New Orleans drowns in a toxic stew of river water poisonous chemicals" rice?

    Yea, real winner that one! Thank the Goddess Hillary Clinton is nothing like HER!!!

    March 5, 2014 10:35 am at 10:35 am |
  24. bspurloc

    I dont know how gop nutcases heads dont explode...
    5 years calling Obama Hitler, 5 years calling Obama a dictator, 5 years calling Obama Weak
    Yet here is Putin changing election laws to allow himself to be re-elected aka dictator
    Annexing bits of countries near him aka Hitler.
    Putin is strong!
    Obama=Putin in their eyes then... head now explode.

    March 5, 2014 10:35 am at 10:35 am |
  25. Bryan Poe

    Sec Clinton is wrong. Russia's leader is not driven by hatred and is not looking to settle a score.

    March 5, 2014 10:35 am at 10:35 am |
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