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Hillary Clinton calls Putin ‘a tough guy with a thin skin’

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Former secretary of state Hillary Rodham Clinton delivered a more measured assessment of the unfolding crisis in Ukraine on Wednesday after having likened Russian President Vladimir Putin to former Nazi leader Adolf Hitler.

Clinton sought to clarify her remarks on Tuesday that Putin’s actions in Ukraine were akin to Hitler’s aggression in the 1930s prior to World War II. In a Wednesday speech at the University of California at Los Angeles, Clinton said Russia had violated international law by invading Crimea and that Putin’s actions were a “deep concern” to the United States and its allies.

“As for President Putin, I know we are dealing with a tough guy with a thin skin,” Clinton said. “I’ve had a lot of experience, not only with him but people like that.”

Clinton added that Putin’s “political vision is of a greater Russia. I said when I was still secretary of state that his goal is to re-Sovietize Russia’s periphery. But in the process, he is squandering the potential of such a great nation – the nation of Russia – and threatening instability and even the peace of Europe.”

Clinton said she supports President Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry’s efforts at “intensive diplomacy” and their calls for Russia to refrain from using force.

Later, answering questions on stage from a UCLA political science professor, Clinton clarified her remarks comparing Putin to Hitler. She said she was merely noting the similarities between Putin’s claim that he went into Crimea to protect Russian minorities and Hitler’s actions in the 1930s to protect German minorities in Poland, Czechoslovakia and elsewhere in Europe.

“I just want people to have a little historic perspective,” Clinton said. “I’m not making a comparison certainly, but I am recommending that we perhaps can learn from this tactic that has been used before.”

On Tuesday, at a private fundraiser, Clinton said that Putin’s move to provide Russian passports to people with Russian connections living outside the country’s borders is reminiscent of Hitler’s protection of ethnic Germans outside of Germany in the period leading up to World War II.

“Now if this sounds familiar, it’s what Hitler did back in the ‘30s,” Clinton said, according to the Long Beach Press-Telegram. “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.”

Philip Rucker is a national political correspondent for The Washington Post, where he has reported since 2005.

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