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. JC

    "You're a Nazi."

    "No, YOU'RE a Nazi!"

    This is like Godwin's Law applied to a schoolyard slap fight.

    March 5, 2014 11:43 am at 11:43 am |
  2. evervigilant

    Hillary should go look up Godwin's Law.

    March 5, 2014 11:43 am at 11:43 am |
  3. DM

    She is a war monger and should watch her words. How would she feel if names where thrown at her for Libya. You would think that we would put people who have a bit more tact in positions like her.

    March 5, 2014 11:43 am at 11:43 am |
  4. obotma

    the ukraine offers a leaderless and failing america a loan!

    March 5, 2014 11:43 am at 11:43 am |
  5. Newport Pagnell

    I guess 'ole Hillary is gonna have to hit the "reset button" again....oopsy!

    March 5, 2014 11:44 am at 11:44 am |
  6. The Harbinger of Your Ascension

    Benito Mussolini said "Fascism should more correctly be called corporatism, because it is the perfect merger of state and corporate power."

    So, while we are making comparisons to the War should we not also claim that America (regardless of which political party is in power) is a Fascist state?

    March 5, 2014 11:45 am at 11:45 am |
  7. smith

    Malory-lol...Gore/Leiberman in 2000 and didn`t vote in 2004.

    March 5, 2014 11:45 am at 11:45 am |
  8. Boubour Zlaq

    How about George W who invaded and destroyed Iraq under false accusations ?

    March 5, 2014 11:46 am at 11:46 am |
  9. JeffHB

    Interesting comment from Nik. Lately I have a hard time understanding the difference between the surveillance state we have become - complete with warrantless searches, secret security police whose actions are hidden from scrutiny by secrecy laws, police tactics against dissidents that seem far more extreme than an old fashioned beating with a stick favored by the Russians in Sochi, death squads under color of federal authority, and a so called liberal President who is fully complicit with the conservative elements and sometimes competes to seem even tougher and more oppressive.

    March 5, 2014 11:48 am at 11:48 am |
  10. The Real Tom Paine


    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.
    Your assumption might be valid if people were actually embarrassed by Obama. What is far more embarrassing is to watch the Right actually praise Putin while slamming Clinton for being accurate in her analogy. By the way, she does not work for the President anymore, so you can stop with the conspiracy talk.

    March 5, 2014 11:54 am at 11:54 am |
  11. Anonymous

    ...the Russian people, who lost tens of millions of lives in the struggle against Hitler, will be appalled by this clumsy attempt by this woman to act tough...Russia saw the coup in Kiev, and reacted defensively against what it sees as CIA backed right wing extremists...Hitler's actions were proactive and not in reaction to any overthrows in the Sudetenland or during the Anschluss..there is no comparison whatsoever....extremely amateurish behavior from this pompous, bumbling, totally imcompetent woman

    March 5, 2014 11:54 am at 11:54 am |
  12. Asturiano

    It sure does remind one of the Nazi justification for invading its neighbors. Putin is a school-yard bully who sees nothing wrong in invading and occupying neighbors to reclaim his Greater Russia. One could hope that the Muslim nations start providing assistance to the breakaway provinces in the Caucus.

    March 5, 2014 11:57 am at 11:57 am |
  13. Crampon

    Actually Putin went directly to his lawmakers first, Obama is the more accurate comparison to Hitler.

    March 5, 2014 11:57 am at 11:57 am |
  14. Bill from GA

    Been said before:
    You can keep silent and have people think you are a fool,
    or you can open your mouth and have them know you are a fool.

    Anybody but Hillary, 2016

    March 5, 2014 11:57 am at 11:57 am |
  15. KN

    Hillary is absolutely right. Putin is same kind of chauvinist like Hitler.

    March 5, 2014 12:01 pm at 12:01 pm |
  16. Jim Nasium

    I can see Putin as the Soup Nazi, but like Hitler?

    March 5, 2014 12:02 pm at 12:02 pm |
  17. Fair is Fair

    That rhetoric is a helluva new restart button, Hill-dog.

    March 5, 2014 12:06 pm at 12:06 pm |
  18. Erik in NE

    She certainly knows her history. This was indeed the classic Hitler tactic: claim that ethic Germans in a particular country were being mistreated, and then use it as a pretext to invade and occupy.

    I'd also note that Putin was the first to invoke Nazis (he called the Ukrainian opposition "Nazis and skinheads"). So if Godwin's law applies, it applies to him.

    March 5, 2014 12:07 pm at 12:07 pm |
  19. Malory Archer


    Malory-lol...Gore/Leiberman in 2000 and didn`t vote in 2004.


    Riiiiiight, and I voted for mcwar & dim bulb barbie in 2008, and mr 47%er in 2012. See how that works?!

    March 5, 2014 12:09 pm at 12:09 pm |
  20. Sc00ter

    Hillary needs to be careful what she says, she is going off the deep end. We do not need a person like HIllary running this country.

    March 5, 2014 12:09 pm at 12:09 pm |
  21. He>I

    Putin can be compared to Hitler and Obama to Paul von Hindenburg!

    March 5, 2014 12:11 pm at 12:11 pm |
  22. Daniel Clark

    Wake up America. In this instance she is right. I have stated the same thing since day one. Putin is Hilter revisited and events are occurring exactly as they did prior to WWII.

    March 5, 2014 12:14 pm at 12:14 pm |
  23. Really?

    Since there was no conspiracy theory insinuated then that is obviously another deflection. Nor was there any praise in any of my comments for the criminal Putin. What i was pointing out is that HRC was the top diplomat for Obama and it's embarrassing to hear such comments on the world stage from someone who once held that position. it seems she didn't learn a thing and will continue with failure. there is not one diplomatic achievement anyone can point to throughout her service. going back to my original post, her comments are not helpful from someone so far removed from the situation as she is at present. However, i will add that it is also extremely foolish and arrogant of her and shows the type of person she truly is. Keep in mind that she was given the position in exchange for her supporters votes, not due to any real experience or capability.

    March 5, 2014 12:14 pm at 12:14 pm |
  24. He>I

    Putin = Hitler and Obama = Paul von Hindenburg Can we get a reset here in USA?

    March 5, 2014 12:14 pm at 12:14 pm |
  25. Brian

    she is right.

    March 5, 2014 12:21 pm at 12:21 pm |
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