German Finance Minister compares Putin to Hitler

German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble (right) meets with EU Competition Commissioner Joaquín Almunia. Brussels, 2011 [EC]

German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble (right) meets with EU Competition Commissioner Joaquín Almunia. Brussels, 2011 [EC]

Vladimir Putin’s methods hearken back to those of Adolf Hitler, said German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble on Monday (31 March), intensifying the quarrel with Russia over the Crimean crisis. EURACTIV Germany reports.

Speaking to students in Berlin on Monday (31 March), German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble compared Putin’s annexation of Crimea with Adolf Hitler’s Anschluss.

“Such methods were already employed by Hitler in the Sudetenland”, explained the finance minister. “We all know that from history.” Hitler justified crushing Czechoslovakia and integrating the Sudetenland into the German Reich by claiming to protect the 3 million Germans who lived in these regions.

Schäuble explained developments in Crimea, the Ukrainian peninsula in the Black Sea which was integrated into the Russian Federation after a referendum not recognised by the West.

At some point the demonstrations against the government came to a head, Schäuble said, “and then Putin said, ‘Actually I always wanted Crimea anyway and now is the opportune moment’.”

A distinct worsening of relations with Russia cannot be ruled out, the finance minister from Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union (CDU) indicated. Fear is spreading in the Baltic States in particular, which belonged to the Soviet Union, but also in Poland or Hungary, which were a part of the Warsaw Pact.

 “They are all pretty scared”, said Schäuble.

A “familiar tactic”

The German finance minister is not the first politician to make the Hitler comparison. In early March, the Czech Republic’s former Foreign Minister Karel Schwarzenberg made a similar statement in the Austrian newspaper Österreich.

“What is happening in Crimea at the moment is a repetition of history,” Schwarzenberg said, “Putin is acting on the same principle as Adolf Hitler. He needed an excuse to invade Crimea so he explained that his fellow countrymen were being repressed.”

Former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton also made the connection at the beginning of March. At a private fundraising event in California she described Putin’s invasion of Crimea: “If this sounds familiar, it’s what Hitler did back in the ’30s.”

Crimea's Moscow-backed leaders declared a 96% vote in favour of quitting Ukraine and annexation by Russia in a referendum held on 16 March Western powers said was illegal and will bring immediate sanctions.

At their 20-21 March summit EU leaders to broaden the list of Ukrainians and Russians whose assets will be frozen and freedom of movement in the EU restricted as a response to Russia's annexation of the Crimean peninsula, bringing the number to 33. A so-called "third stage" of sanctions is now also in the pipeline.

Meanwhile, US President Obama announced from Washington that the Americans had added 20 new officials to its sanctions list, including Putin's chief of staff, Sergei Ivanov. 

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