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. Ben

    Most people agree the world would have been better off if some countries had worked together to stop Hitler in the 30's.

    By saying this isn't Hilary also basically favoring war? Or is it just talk?

    March 5, 2014 10:35 am at 10:35 am |
  2. smith

    @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.

    March 5, 2014 10:35 am at 10:35 am |
  3. Getoverit

    How's that "reset" working for you there, Hillary?

    March 5, 2014 10:39 am at 10:39 am |
  4. Jessica McGwin

    Hillary Clinton does not speak for the United States People. She has not been Elected President, she "stepped down" after she stood down and allowed Americans to be murdered. Is not not currently in an elected or Appointed position. Her involvement is only to aggravate the situation leading to the surrender of the United States to China.

    March 5, 2014 10:40 am at 10:40 am |
  5. Really?

    Apparently there are people on this blog that feel Hilary and Obama are justified in their incompetence since this is a behavior that has been thoroughly documented and accepted in the past. So much for "Hope and Change". This is a perfect example why Hillary Clinton should not be President. It will be a continuation of failed policies and tactics.

    March 5, 2014 10:40 am at 10:40 am |
  6. puddintane

    "True" or no, the generic Hiter comparison is so beyond stale by now

    March 5, 2014 10:41 am at 10:41 am |
  7. Loren

    Well, duh! Of course it is exactly like Hitler pre-World War II and our diplomats should be stating that forcefully. Ultimately, I would expect Ukraine to part with the Crimea if the price is right, but Putin has to see that the smart thing to do is to handle this diplomatically and withdraw his forces. There were no threats to Russian ethnics before the invasion, and all Putin did was put Russian ethnics elsewhere in Ukraine at risk by invading. What a dolt.

    March 5, 2014 10:42 am at 10:42 am |
  8. downton duck

    Check your sources. Allegedly Palin said this.

    March 5, 2014 10:42 am at 10:42 am |
  9. lean6

    Can someone explain to me why our conservatards are so enamored by Putin...why are they so blind to their own ignorance that they are backing him over the President of the United States? If this doesn't wake them from their 5 year long stupor, nothing will.

    March 5, 2014 10:43 am at 10:43 am |
  10. More bad news..

    Note to self: Comparing the Russian leader to Hitler, after what happened in WW2, is not going to sit well with Putin. Even if the analogy is true – Clinton should have kept from using this, as it's only going to insult Russia, it's not going to help in any way; and you'd think our former Sec of State would be better about public comments, but this is what you'll get more of if she gets elected.

    March 5, 2014 10:43 am at 10:43 am |
  11. Richard

    Clinton was beaten to the punch by this by about 100 other people posting in various blogs.

    March 5, 2014 10:44 am at 10:44 am |
  12. Hector Slagg

    Russia going into the Ukraine is similar to Hitler going into Poland. And maybe Obama is somewhat like Neville Chamberlein hoping for Peace in our time. Also the Soviets had a Non Aggression Pact with Hitler. We all know how that turned out. And for all practical purposes Obama looks weak. Will history repeat it's self?

    March 5, 2014 10:46 am at 10:46 am |
  13. kazi

    I give you this that Putin is bad, but reckless comment and war monger H Clinton is not an option for the country's bid for future President.Imagine you are provoking a superpower in a worst possible way.

    March 5, 2014 10:48 am at 10:48 am |
  14. Wes

    The closest thing I have heard to Clinton grasping a tad bit of foreign policy... Not that she is much better than BHO, but perhaps a tad bit... I would not want either of them in office if a world war broke out though

    March 5, 2014 10:49 am at 10:49 am |
  15. qslife

    Hilary has her history facts correct and the fact is that the past has a funny way of repeating itself. My thoughts of Putin's rhetoric was the same thing, this being the 2nd time he's used this line of thinking (first with Georgia and now Cremia). He wants to create the old buffers of USSR but, should not be allowed to through the projection of force (diplomacy is required – he's just not that great at it).

    March 5, 2014 10:49 am at 10:49 am |
  16. Malory Archer

    The Obama Administration handled the Ukraine situation in a fashion remarkably similar to how the previous occupant of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue handled his soul mate's invasion of Georgia, and all the apologists and sychophants had nothing but praise for him. Why the change of heart?

    March 5, 2014 10:49 am at 10:49 am |
  17. Anonymous

    Clinton was simply saying that Putin moving into the Crimea to keep Russians nationalist safe is the same excuse Hitler used when he went into the Sudetenland in 1938. She didn't say Putin is another Hitler. She only stated he is using the same excuse for his actions. That's a just a fact.

    March 5, 2014 10:49 am at 10:49 am |
  18. Malory Archer


    @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.


    Yeah m'kay, whatever. A quick 30-second google search would provide you with a treasure trove of the facts. A great place to start would be Colin Powell's speech toward the security council in the rush to start a war, and all of the easily-researched facts available to anyone with more than two active brain cells. But of course the facts don't fit your worldview, so in your mind, they just don't exist.

    March 5, 2014 10:50 am at 10:50 am |
  19. yadada

    screw Putin and Russia, LEAVE UKRAINE ALONE!!!!!!!

    March 5, 2014 10:52 am at 10:52 am |
  20. Dom

    I don't think Putin is a Hitler type – i think he really thought he needed to protect Russia's base and people from what he likely fears could end up a Syria in the Ukraine. What would the US do if there was a coup in Mexico and the Mexican President was in the US asking for help? You ALL know we would send in some Navy Seals or something... I think the West has gone nuts over this because they are afraid Putin is going to start a larger war that could end up spreading to Belarus, Poland and who knows where else in Eastern Europe. I think he is afraid of a civil war in the Ukraine and he can't have that on his border and it would disrupt the pipelines that move gas and oil from Russia to Europe. He has a point there – and that doesn't just hurt Russia that would hurt Europe too. The answer is to stabalize Ukraine perhaps with a joint NATO/Russia force? I am not sure Putin would go for that but if he really is just worried about a civil war there and protecting Russian interests then he should jump all over that....

    March 5, 2014 10:52 am at 10:52 am |
  21. Keith ..... in Oregon

    To all of you who don't believe there is a else can you explain the Clinton's?
    We have sinned and we are being punished.

    March 5, 2014 10:54 am at 10:54 am |
  22. Dominican mama 4 Obama


    This is not helpful at all, Clinton should know better
    I agree smith.

    March 5, 2014 10:54 am at 10:54 am |
  23. Jake

    She should just STOP TALKING before she starts WWIII!! Great way to fix things, insult Putin, so smart Hillary. Opening mouth and inserting foot.

    March 5, 2014 10:57 am at 10:57 am |
  24. Sheeples

    Hurray, I knew it was going to get deep. You only need a few of these kinds of people to be in charge to know it’s going get worse, way before it gets better. Political and economic instability, That is all they are accomplishing and I'm sure that is going to be favorable to the Ukraine’s future. Dysfunction is what they really are pushing, that will give them the justification that they think they need to force their agendas onto another sovereign country. I'm sure that if the Russians and the Americans would stay out of it, The current crisis would normalize and rectify in a far more favorable manner. I guess the stupid powers want to re-establish their cold war doctrine so they can waste billions more pretending to be tough guys. It’s a shame that both Russia and America have no idea what is coming, no idea that they are right on the cusp of some very serious and far reaching environmental changes. Neither of them have set about any preparations to offset the effects. I guess it really doesn't matter much overall. The herd is due and even the powder puffs are part of the herd. Sometimes destiny just can't be denied,no matter who your suppose to be.

    March 5, 2014 10:57 am at 10:57 am |
  25. dl

    I think making comparisons to Hitler is always a good move – no theatrics, exaggeration or hyperbole involved & eases the way into rational dialogue... only the BEST statement & talk radio hosts use that technique
    [sarc off]

    March 5, 2014 10:58 am at 10:58 am |
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