Clinton Compares Putin to Hitler, Then Denies She Did

Hillary Clinton says Russia's deployment of troops into Crimea recalls similar moves by Hitler.

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Elad Benari,

Clinton and Putin in 2012
Clinton and Putin in 2012

Former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton compared Russian President Vladimir Putin's actions in Ukraine to aggression by Adolf Hitler in 1930s Nazi Germany, but then took back her remarks.

According to AFP, Clinton, who spoke at a private event Tuesday in southern California, said Putin's apparent deployment of Russian troops into neighboring Ukraine to protect Russian citizens and Russian-speakers recalls moves by Hitler to protect ethnic Germans living outside of Germany.

The Long Beach Press Telegram which quoted Clinton’s comments said the former top diplomat noted that Putin has sought to provide Russian passports to people in Ukraine with ties to Russia.

"Now if this sounds familiar, it's what Hitler did back in the 30s," the Press Telegram quoted Clinton as telling attendees at a fundraiser for the Boys and Girls Clubs of Long Beach, California.

"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," she added.

With pro-Kremlin forces seizing control of Crimea, Clinton said Putin "believes his mission is to restore Russian greatness," in part by reasserting dominance over former Soviet states.

Clinton spoke of the hopes for a negotiation that will reduce tensions in what has become Europe's worst security crisis since the end of the Cold War.

"So it's a real nail-biter right now, but nobody wants to up the rhetoric," she added. "Everybody wants to cool it in order to find a diplomatic solution and that's what we should be trying to do."

The comments were widely reported and on Wednesday, reported CNN, Clinton sought to explain her remarks, denying she compared Putin to Hitler.

The former secretary of state reportedly told an audience in Los Angeles that her comments on Tuesday were an attempt for "people to have a little historic perspective."

"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 was quoted by CNN as having 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," she added.

In her answer to Vavreck's question, Clinton did not use the name Hitler and instead used the phrase "Germany under the Nazis."

The AFP report noted that Clinton’s comments could be seen as offsetting her role in President Barack Obama's much-publicized move to "reset" relations with Moscow in 2009, when she served as Secretary of State.

As the crisis in Ukraine has deepened, Obama  has been criticized by Republicans who say he is “all talk and no action” on Russia.

Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) took things further on Monday, telling the AIPAC conference that events in Ukraine are directly related to Obama's “feckless” policies.

Some news outlets in the United States have also been reminding Americans of how Obama mocked his Republican rival, Mitt Romney, who  attacked the Obama administration's "reset policy" with Russia during the 2012 presidential campaign. 

Obama later told Romney during the third presidential debate, “I'm glad that you recognize that Al-Qaeda's a threat because a few months ago when you were asked, what's the biggest geopolitical threat facing America, you said Russia -- not Al-Qaeda, you said Russia. And the 1980s are now calling to ask for their foreign policy back because, you know, the Cold War's been over for 20 years.”

Last Friday, the Breitbart website reminded those who may have forgotten that during the 2008 presidential campaign, Republican Vice Presidential candidate Sarah Palin warned that if Obama were elected president, his "indecision" and "moral equivalence" may encourage Russia's Vladimir Putin to invade Ukraine.

Palin, too, was mocked for her comments, particularly by the Foreign Policy magazine and its editor Blake Hounshell, who wrote at the time that Palin's comments were "strange" and "this is an extremely far-fetched scenario."