Hillary Clinton compares Putin's aggression against Ukraine to Hitler
Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Jan. 30, 2014. [Agence France-Presse]

Former US secretary of state Hillary Clinton has compared Russian President Vladimir Putin's recent steps in Ukraine to aggression by Adolf Hitler in 1930s Nazi Germany, a local paper reported.

Clinton, speaking at a private event Tuesday in southern California, said Putin's apparent deployment of Russian troops into neighboring Ukraine -- a former Soviet satellite state -- 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 reported the story said Clinton noted that Putin has sought to provide Russian passports to people in Ukraine with ties to Russia.

In the aftermath of the ouster of Ukraine's pro-Moscow president Viktor Yanukovych, Kiev's new authorities have accused Putin of inflaming tensions by sending troops into the Crimea, a majority-Russian peninsula in Ukraine.

"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.

Clinton is a potential 2016 Democratic presidential candidate, and she has generally shied away from much detailed public discussion of foreign policy since leaving the State Department early last year.

Her 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 was chief US diplomat.

With pro-Kremlin forces seizing control of the strategic 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."

Event attendee Harry Saltzgaver told website Buzzfeed that Clinton "talked at length" on the Ukraine crisis, and that she compared issuing Russian passports to people with ties to Russia to early actions by Nazi Germany.

"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," Saltzgaver was quoted as saying.