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. Rising_Dough

    Disappointed with Hiliary's loaded reference to Hitler. While she accurately compares the invasion justification used, this doesn't help the situation. She could also have compared Putin's rationale for invading the Ukraine with Reagan's rationale for invading Grenada. They're both equally superficial.

    March 5, 2014 12:25 pm at 12:25 pm |
  2. oxi

    The Russians fought the Nazi's while the Western Ukrainians bowed to them!

    March 5, 2014 12:26 pm at 12:26 pm |
  3. sly

    Russia hasn't broken any laws.

    The Russian navy is allowed up to

    – 25,000 troops,
    – 24 artillery systems with a caliber smaller than 100 mm,
    – 132 armored vehicles, and
    – 22 military planes, on Crimean territory.

    That's the law. Folks – read, learn, educate yourselves. There isn't anything America can do, nor should there be.

    March 5, 2014 12:30 pm at 12:30 pm |
  4. Robert

    Likening Putin to Hitler is not the best way to approach negotiations! Hilary sometimes seems like a bit of a war monger but maybe it's best to call it as it is in all it's truth.

    March 5, 2014 12:31 pm at 12:31 pm |
  5. Shamoononon

    Oh, give me a break. If anything Obama is like Hitler. Can we just mind our own business now?

    March 5, 2014 12:32 pm at 12:32 pm |
  6. Atiq

    Ms. Clinton, don't say things you would need to apologize for later.. in case you ever become president again

    March 5, 2014 12:38 pm at 12:38 pm |
  7. Guy

    I was wondering when someone would make that comparison. Figured people were holding off for fear of offending the the Russians, since they suffered so much under Hitler in WWII. But the parallels are definitely there. Surprised Clinton is the one who made the remark first. This will haunt her through the election.

    March 5, 2014 12:43 pm at 12:43 pm |
  8. Anonymous

    What I love about Hillary is that her desire to hear herself speak, much like Obama, results in many remarks that go too far. When she is interviewed she just can't help spilling the beans which at least we learn a few things which might be good or bad.

    Putin is Putin. Many have said he is loading up the Ukraine with Russians just to pretend to come rescue them. If so, that tactic has been done before. I listened to Putin yesterday. Often he just rambles and his POV is really not reality. However, his objections to invasion done by the US have some merit especially the Libya one that still makes no sense since our interests were not being damaged and thus why did we invade. I know. Humanitarian as we dropped bomb after bomb destroying infrastructure and killing innocent people in the way. The fact is he wanted Gaddafi gone. Period. Putin warned him not to invade and now Putin is using that invasion to legitimize his own. But the real story is how Putin is exposing how Obama has lost Europe, at least thus far. Spying on friends just doesn't sit well.

    March 5, 2014 12:49 pm at 12:49 pm |
  9. wcb2000

    "but nobody wants to up the rhetoric," she said

    So likening Putin to Hitler is not up'ing the rhetoric?

    March 5, 2014 12:49 pm at 12:49 pm |
  10. daveinla

    and Obama's are similar to Lenin's 5 year plans.

    March 5, 2014 12:54 pm at 12:54 pm |
  11. Shelia

    LOL..Her and the rest of the democrats are squarely to blame for doing nothing, ignoring warnings.

    March 5, 2014 12:54 pm at 12:54 pm |
  12. Kate

    Give me a break...she was obviously trying to frame it in a way that kids could understand. CNN loves to dump on Hillary–they certainly did during the primaries. If Obama had said this it would be ' oh he is just frustrated' or ' he just has so much on his plate'. Here we go again. Hillary is much tougher on foreign policy than Obama and the left hates that and the right is afraid of that.

    March 5, 2014 12:54 pm at 12:54 pm |
  13. Ujustgotserved

    Clinton's actually not too far off in this analysis. shocker.

    March 5, 2014 12:55 pm at 12:55 pm |
  14. ElectricLion

    When will American politicians get off their "Hitler" kick? We can't all be Hitler every time we do something you don't like.

    For the record, the only person who was like Hitler, was Hitler. Move on already.

    March 5, 2014 12:59 pm at 12:59 pm |
  15. NoTax

    Russia and Hitler were freind to crash Poland, Romania and Chech, all remember joint nazi-soviet war parade in brest, ss-brigade and commi kiss each other under Hitler-Stalin portrait of brothers

    March 5, 2014 01:01 pm at 1:01 pm |
  16. smith

    Malory- You just can`t grasp the concept of Independent can you? Maybe its the fact that your anti-Bush talking points don`t work with me since Im an Independent and didn`t vote for Bush. I`ll let you get back to your world of denial.

    March 5, 2014 01:03 pm at 1:03 pm |
  17. mike

    We killed 5 million in vietnam estimated
    We attacked Iraq because we were misled by our leaders killing a few hundred thousand men women and children.
    Now we are worried about Crimea the home of the largest Russian military base?
    Gee how many men women and children have the Russians killed so far?
    We look like the crazy Americans how sad for us.

    March 5, 2014 01:03 pm at 1:03 pm |
  18. S

    Let's not forget that without Russia, Hitler most likely would have won.

    These comparrissons are only effective if the person listening to them is ignorant to world history.

    March 5, 2014 01:04 pm at 1:04 pm |
  19. Loki II

    So who is Hitler like? I'm guessing Mussolini ? And who is Churchill like? I'm going with Genghis Kahn. And who is Hillary like ... Back to Hitler again. There is no way out.

    March 5, 2014 01:06 pm at 1:06 pm |
  20. yogi

    She is right, Putin is nostalgic to the former Soviet Union, and he would love to get the strategic Crimea added again to Russian real estate. Putin is a dictator, his face at the Winter Olympics was nothing more than showing the world how great he is, whereas in reality he is a cold and extremely insecure man, almost robotic.

    March 5, 2014 01:11 pm at 1:11 pm |
  21. Silence DoGood

    Malory- You just can`t grasp the concept of Independent can you? Maybe its the fact that your anti-Bush talking points don`t work with me since Im an Independent and didn`t vote for Bush. I`ll let you get back to your world of denial.
    "independent" has become the code name for more radical conservative than the GOP. If people were out there really independently making up their mind, they would be voting Tea Party, Green Party, Libertarian, Socialist Party, whatever. Most "independents" I have read or talked to generally are very conservative-libertarian.

    March 5, 2014 01:12 pm at 1:12 pm |
  22. Loki II

    On another note...If Putin is Clinton suggesting we go to war with Putin-Hitler ? Seems that a similar decision was made back in 1941. Maybe send your daughter to help this humanitarian cause....or is that too much risk for you?

    March 5, 2014 01:12 pm at 1:12 pm |
  23. Lord Toronaga

    Hillary Clinton says "I can see Putin-Hitler from my porch".

    March 5, 2014 01:16 pm at 1:16 pm |
  24. Nomad

    Hillary Clinton is a perfect example of why we should not have let women out of the kitchen.

    March 5, 2014 01:19 pm at 1:19 pm |
  25. Frank

    Where was Clinton when we needed him to liken Bush's invasions of sovereign nations to that of Hitler's? It's very, very sad, but it's a fact: We've been setting some seriously bad examples for others to follow, and now some others are following it. Our credibility to criticize other countries for invading other countries is shot.

    March 5, 2014 01:20 pm at 1:20 pm |
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