There’s been no shortage of Hitler comparisons in the Ukraine crisis, from “Putler” references at protests and on Twitter, to Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych likening his ouster to the rise of the Nazis in the ‘30s. Now Hillary Clinton has joined the list. BuzzFeed reports that at a fundraiser in California on Tuesday night, the former secretary of state drew parallels between the actions of Vladimir Putin and Adolf Hitler. “She compared issuing Russian passports to Ukrainians with ties to Russia with early actions by Nazi Germany before Hitler began invading neighboring countries,” said attendee Harry Saltzgaver. “She said, however, that while that makes people nervous, there is no indication that Putin is as irrational as the instigator of World War II.” So that’s good.
“Now if this sounds familiar, it’s what Hitler did back in the 30s,” Clinton said, according to a Long Beach Press Telegram report on the Boys and Girls Club of Long Beach fundraiser. “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.”
She went on to discuss her experience in the region, “both regarding Putin’s attitude of wanting to put Mother Russia back together, and the pressure put on the Ukrainian president not to sign agreements with the European Union,” Saltzgaver said. According to a second anonymous attendee, she didn’t discuss what the United States should do, but added, “Putin is trying to assert his power in a way that is dangerous.”
Clinton has been hesitant to comment on ongoing foreign policy issues since leaving office, and presumably she wasn’t aware that her comments would be made public. Saltzgaver, who is executive editor of a Long Beach newspaper group, told Politico he meant to speak to BuzzFeed without attribution. “I did not expect to be quoted and start a firestorm here,” he said “The discussion was not meant to be a press conference.”
However, Clinton’s hawkish assessment contradicts criticism leveled at her in recent days. Republicans including John McCain have been mocking Clinton for her role in the Obama administration’s attempt to “reset” relations with Russia five years ago. (The silly photo of Clinton presenting Russia’s foreign minister with a “reset” button hasn’t helped her case.)
For those who feel Hitler comparisons are too extreme, Clinton actually has a variety of Putin insults to choose from. Just before Russian troops entered Ukraine last week, Clinton predicted Putin would try to take advantage of the situation, saying he “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.” During the 2008 election, she was more blunt about her feelings toward the Russian president. “He was a KGB agent. By definition, he doesn’t have a soul,” she said.
This post was updated to include the quotation from Clinton, as reported by the Long Beach Press Telegram. The event was closed to other members of the press.