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. sifto

    Blitzer just stated she should have a chance to "walk back" her statement today..Cnn never gives republicans that liberty..guess wolf is just trying to help her..

    March 5, 2014 11:16 am at 11:16 am |
  2. Thomas

    Vladimir Putin and Adolf Hitler , big egos , low self esteem , both used gangster style nationalism to support themselves to power , both came to power during there countries lowest periods of demoralization .

    It's amazing that Russia has there own version of the Tea Party

    March 5, 2014 11:18 am at 11:18 am |
  3. DB

    First of all , I believe Sec.Clinton has a right to voice her opinion. Secondly, she didn't call the Russian leader, Hitler, she was trying to explain why some people might be nervous about his actions, since that same reasoning had been used in the past. The sensationalizing of the comment by the news media is of more concern to me.

    March 5, 2014 11:19 am at 11:19 am |
  4. H

    For once it isn;t hyperbole.Hitler took the chunks of his neighbors territories the same way and under a similar premise.The Great powers reacted by trying to put off a war until he stormed through Poland.

    March 5, 2014 11:19 am at 11:19 am |
  5. smith

    @Malory- That isn`t even close to a smoking gun or proof of lies. What you have is a conspiracy theory.

    March 5, 2014 11:21 am at 11:21 am |
  6. Silence DoGood

    So here we go again with conservative hypocrisy. After right wing talking heads calling Clinton, Obama, and others Hitler, Ms.Clinton makes and actual historical comparison right or wrong, and radical right jots it down in the series of out-of-context book and cries with crocodile tears.

    March 5, 2014 11:21 am at 11:21 am |
  7. Wayne Rizor

    What is there about using historical comparisons of events past and present that people find offensive. Hillary is right on target. What Hitler did, no matter how vile it was, happened as a result of the complacency of his own people, his neighbors and the rest of the world. When you look away from the actions of an aggressor, when you fail to call him out and make those kinds historical comparisons where they are justified you are telling the aggressor "Hey, it's OK with me" and before you know it he'll take a bite out of another country, simply because he can.

    March 5, 2014 11:25 am at 11:25 am |
  8. JF

    I was telling my wife the same thing last night and then Hilary said it. Too bad we ignore history.
    Russia has always wanted a buffer zone from Europe. Russia has always been fearful of a Western invasion. As history tells us.

    March 5, 2014 11:25 am at 11:25 am |
  9. 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?

    March 5, 2014 11:26 am at 11:26 am |
  10. situationalawareness

    It appears most people commenting aren't seeing the forest for the trees here. Don't instantly think of mass genocide and wild world affairs when you read the name Hitler or the word Nazi, you must think about the actual world events that lead to that fiasco which at the time were starting slowly and creeped into what happened. It wasn't a ninja flash-bang with WW2 Nazi-occupied Europe the day after... as with all things in this world, it's the same as the frogs in a pot of water with the water heating slowly.

    March 5, 2014 11:26 am at 11:26 am |
  11. Ling

    Hitler took over territories of other, foreign countries. Sevastopol was never granted to Ukraine: even after Crimea was gifted, Sevastopol remained a separate territory of Russia, till 1991. Xryschev, the Soviet leader,gifted Crimea to Ukraine under the fake "voting" at the communist party meeting. It wasn't even a gift but a transfer for "administrative management" and should have been voided upon break-up of USSR. Instead, Yeltzin signed off the papers with new map of the countries under the US and Europe pressure and alcohol influence. Ukraine got those territories fraudulently, and Russians came to get their money and land back.

    March 5, 2014 11:28 am at 11:28 am |
  12. The Real Tom Paine


    Blitzer just stated she should have a chance to "walk back" her statement today..Cnn never gives republicans that liberty..guess wolf is just trying to help her..
    Oh, cry me a river, you little whiner. CNN does that all the time, its just that your lot aren't smart enough to take advantage of an opportunity to get themselves out of a hole of their own creation.

    March 5, 2014 11:28 am at 11:28 am |
  13. Otis Anthony Jr.

    Hillary Clinton is right in comparing Putin actions to what Adolf Hitler did invading countries on his border, using the same story, protecting the German people. Which led to World War 2. Are people blind to history or afraid of the truth? Hillary Clinton spoke on the facts. People read your history to better understand what's happening here. This is not Politics, this is history repeating itself. CNN is wrong for attacked Hillary Clinton on her assessment of the situation. They need to do their homework on World War 2 before they start criticizing Hillary for political points. Let not forget Austria, Poland and a few other countries that suffer the same fate as Ukraine is facing now.

    March 5, 2014 11:29 am at 11:29 am |
  14. Malory Archer


    @Malory- That isn`t even close to a smoking gun or proof of lies. What you have is a conspiracy theory.


    Yeah, you just keep on telling yourself that if it helps soothe your guilty soul for voting for him – TWICE.

    March 5, 2014 11:31 am at 11:31 am |
  15. sonny chapman

    Hitler !! But George W. looked into Putin's eyes & saw his soul & assured us all was well. Amazing powers !

    March 5, 2014 11:31 am at 11:31 am |
  16. Sniffit

    LOL. The only thing sticking in the GOPers/Teatrolls' craw right now is that she made the comparison before they got a chance to.

    Godwin is LHAO.

    March 5, 2014 11:35 am at 11:35 am |

    Absolutely right Hillary. Those who don't learn from history are doomed to repeat it. So to those who say this is nothing new I suggest you go read HITLER'S WAR AIMS (1973) – OR get someone to read it to you.

    March 5, 2014 11:36 am at 11:36 am |
  18. Enough is Enough

    And when a Republican makes a comparison to Nazi Germany they are ridiculed for it....Gotta love the progressive double standard…..

    March 5, 2014 11:37 am at 11:37 am |
  19. smith

    Fact of the day- The interim president of Ukraine has ties to George Soros.

    March 5, 2014 11:37 am at 11:37 am |
  20. Otis Anthony Jr.

    The world made a big mistake years ago by not doing enough to blocked Adolf Hitler and millions die. Are we going to do this again?

    March 5, 2014 11:38 am at 11:38 am |
  21. Malory Archer


    Blitzer just stated she should have a chance to "walk back" her statement today..Cnn never gives republicans that liberty..guess wolf is just trying to help her..


    What blitzer & CNN SHOULD be doing is apologizing for using her statment without the complete context. Then they should run HER ENTIRE STATEMENT again in the appropriate context.

    March 5, 2014 11:38 am at 11:38 am |
  22. sly

    Hillary is correct, and things haven't changed that much since the Nazi days. Nations cannot just occupy other nations.

    I am confident President Obama will negotiate a settlement, just as he did with the Syrian chemical weapons. Diplomacy is always happening in the world of geopolitics. (except for the dumb folks that resort to violence).

    March 5, 2014 11:39 am at 11:39 am |
  23. Really?

    One should keep in mind that this is an article about what Hillary Clinton just said even though she was given her marching orders by Obama while in his service. to try and deflect the topic away from the focus is a typical and tiresome tactic. To try so hard and deflect to other topics and questions due to embarrassment of your current President is all the more reason to prevent another mistake with HRC. What to expect from a Hillary presidency is directly in this article.

    March 5, 2014 11:40 am at 11:40 am |
  24. mudbone

    She is absolutely right. Putin is trying to reconstitute the Soviet Union. His arguements are exactly what Hitler used to invade other counties. Put a toothbrush mustache on him and he would look just like Hitler.

    March 5, 2014 11:40 am at 11:40 am |
  25. Harbinger of Your Ascension

    Leave it to CNN to be apologists for the liberal agenda. Their "journalistic integrity" makes Fox look like Jim Lehrer....

    March 5, 2014 11:41 am at 11:41 am |
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