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. Oleg

    I knew she was insane, but now it looks like she has severe brain damage. God forbid she will become a prez of US....

    March 5, 2014 10:58 am at 10:58 am |
  2. Yevgeni Baron

    H Clinton is misinformed, narrow minded, uneducated, and ultra reactionary. She is plain wrong.

    March 5, 2014 10:59 am at 10:59 am |
  3. Tim Gray

    She is exactly right in the sense that this is a great Nazi comparison. The sad part though is that Obama is acting like Neville Chamberlain.

    March 5, 2014 10:59 am at 10:59 am |
  4. salty dog

    Smith, your being more than a little naive, he and Cheney made the report of wmd, just like the Koch brothers wrote the second keystone report, were talking big, big money, billions.

    March 5, 2014 11:00 am at 11:00 am |
  5. GOP = Greed Over People

    Someone apparently needs to point out HRC is a PRIVATE citizen making a speech to an audience that paid to hear her.

    Unlike the Dumb and Dumber current Congressional duo, that yammer into any microphone thrust at them between 9-12 A.M. on any given Sunday morn.

    March 5, 2014 11:00 am at 11:00 am |
  6. The Real Tom Paine

    -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?
    Doubt it. And, once again, you've screwed up the historical analogy, so your string of wilfull misinformation remains intact. If the Russians try to use energy as a means of blackmailing the EU and the US into standing by, let them, If no one buys their natural gas, but purchases ours instead, who do you think will come out ahead? And, I would really love to hear you state what the options are, but experience has taught us you're simply not that smart.

    March 5, 2014 11:02 am at 11:02 am |
  7. TheSilence

    I guess Clinton ran out of reset buttons.

    March 5, 2014 11:03 am at 11:03 am |
  8. Khagaraj Sommu

    In contrast Hillary's actions on both Libya and Syria are so benign.The two ventures killed only about 200,000 people in both the countries.

    March 5, 2014 11:03 am at 11:03 am |
  9. curiocitytoo

    I feel that Clinton's comment was comparing the subtle and pervasive way Hitler started, not to the mass genocide and horrific atrocities he ultimately caused. It all started with propaganda and subtle forced changes. We have already seen Putin lie about the troops in the Ukraine, spreading propaganda. Stating that they were not Russian but Nazi's and anti- Semitic forces.
    How can we learn from the mistakes made throughout history if it is taboo to reference them?

    March 5, 2014 11:04 am at 11:04 am |
  10. ronald e miller

    if narcissistic loony toon HRC is elected prez@2016, then you can kiss the Good Old USofA good-bye as our Country will fail BIG TIME! like the former USSR.

    March 5, 2014 11:04 am at 11:04 am |
  11. Tampa Tim

    It appears that Bryan Poe has also looked into Putin's eyes and seen his soul.

    March 5, 2014 11:04 am at 11:04 am |
  12. Dom

    Too many on his blog have no idea what they are writing about. Putin does need to be checked – but sanctions and comparing him to Hitler is just stupid. The world is very different from the 1930s. Hitler had no reason to go into Poland – he just did it – and he didn't have to worry about the US invading his country like Russia would if Putin contiunes his questionable behavior. Putin had a reason to go into the Ukraine – like it or not he had some legit concerns and the US would have done the same thing if it was Mexico. If Putin makes more misteps he will end up in a war he can't win – and he knows that and trust me he doesn't want US troops occupying Moscow. So let's just let this settle down and the sound minds will work this out behind closed doors. Putin, Kerry, Obama, McCain, Clinton, etc. need to chill the rhetoric and sit down and talk this out.

    March 5, 2014 11:05 am at 11:05 am |
  13. Nathan

    Hillary......that is probably one the dumbest statements I've heard from you, such exaggeration just to get your comments in the media for personal gain.

    March 5, 2014 11:05 am at 11:05 am |
  14. The Real Tom Paine


    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.
    And the conservative alternative would be what? Rand Paul would ignore the problem, Christie would set up traffic cones for the Russians to follow, and Ted Cruz would find a way for his sponsors to make money off of it. As usual, the Right fails to offer any sort of alternative solution, and wails about " failed policies" instead: the cry of the intellectually and morally bankrupt rings particularly hollow right now.

    March 5, 2014 11:06 am at 11:06 am |
  15. Bill

    Well, we've compared him to Hitler, so, by Godwin's law, this conflict is over. Good job, Hillary.

    March 5, 2014 11:07 am at 11:07 am |
  16. colin in Florida

    Exact same thing I have been saying for more than a week. This is just like 1938, when Germany occupied Austria, let alone the later Czech invasion.

    It didn't end well then for anyone. Let's not forget our history, people. This was only 75 years ago-plenty of people still alive will remember this.

    And to call anyone but Putin a war monger is just plain, well, stupid.

    March 5, 2014 11:08 am at 11:08 am |
  17. Peggy

    Loren's comment was spot on. It would have been better for Mrs. Clinton to have added that the analogy does not extend beyond the initial Hitler land grad or not made the comment at all. However, this comparison to Hitler's strategy was correct. If the world had taken prompt action initially with Herr Hitler maybe the whole horrible actions he took may not have happened. We will never know, will we?

    March 5, 2014 11:11 am at 11:11 am |
  18. Bergerman

    H. Clinton does not understand. Russia is protecting its military bases and nuclear arsenal in the Ukraine. Why would anyone want her to be President?

    March 5, 2014 11:12 am at 11:12 am |
  19. Monomachos

    Ms Clinton needs to march right over to Moscow and demand that the Russian foreign minister return the Reset Button she gave him back in 2009. That would show 'em.

    March 5, 2014 11:13 am at 11:13 am |
  20. FreedomStorm

    And by doing so, her purpose is to take our eyes off of the countless parallels of Obama and herself to Hitler.

    March 5, 2014 11:13 am at 11:13 am |
  21. Bill, Bloomington Il

    we had better listen to Clinton. She was there. We were not.

    March 5, 2014 11:13 am at 11:13 am |
  22. teaky

    I would be very disappointed if she really made this remark although I am one of her staunch supporters. I strongly believe that Putin would be wise to have dialogues with the US and Western Europe over Ukraine but if he and/or other Russian top level officers were sanctioned, it will blow up in our face.

    March 5, 2014 11:14 am at 11:14 am |
  23. Nik

    This gets me for a fun reason. Hitler first convinced his people that he was their socialist savior, offering education for all young ones that was uniform across the country, "affordable" healthcare and consistently developed language regarding the disparity between the rich and the poor. . . Sounds a lot more like Hillary than Putin.

    The US should protect its interests, but do we have any tact at all? Why is it OK for us to threaten Syria and support rebellions across the world but when students peacefully protest at Berkeley they are pepper sprayed and called terrorists.

    March 5, 2014 11:15 am at 11:15 am |
  24. JeffHB

    I think that this is an interesting post for so many reasons. First, there is actually a test going on right now. The test is whether or not the ties of international trade are sufficient to encourage peaceful resolution of a serious dispute between Russia and the West. It is an open question, and it is important to find out the answer. If the end result is the re-establishment of a Ukrainian satellite state similar to the Ukraine of the old Soviet Union, well, it is good to learn the lesson now, with a country that never really had a good chance of escaping Russian domination. Ukraine is so enmeshed in the fabric of the Russian empire that it is a small miracle that it has any independence today, however shortlived that may be.

    Second, most republicans are apparently intelligent enough to understand that this is not a good time to roll out the old talking points, and it is exciting to see comments that have a slightly higher than usual amount of thoughtful commentary.

    Third, history still matters. Putin's use of antisemitism as part of his justification for illegal international aggression is somewhat ham handed - but by Russian standards subtle - attempt to anticipate the probability that sooner or later somebody would say "Hey, wait, didn't Nazi Germany do this in the 30s?"

    Fascinating time to be alive and watch history unfold. But very glad I do not live in the Ukraine.

    March 5, 2014 11:15 am at 11:15 am |
  25. Johnathan

    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.

    March 5, 2014 11:16 am at 11:16 am |
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