Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Tuesday compared recent actions by Russian President Vladimir Putin in the Ukraine to those implemented by Adolf Hitler in the late 1930s.

Putin's desire to protect minority Russians in Ukraine is reminiscent of Hitler's actions to protect ethnic Germans outside Germany, she said.

Putin has been on a campaign to give Russian passports to anyone who has Russian connections, Clinton said.

The Russian leader has recently done so in the Ukrainian peninsula of Crimea, which, Clinton said, is similar to what happened in Nazi Germany in the late 1930s. Hitler resettled tens of thousands of ethnic Germans who were living in parts of Europe to Nazi Germany.

Clinton made her comments at a private event benefiting the Boys & Girls Clubs of Long Beach, Calif.

“Now if this sounds familiar, it's what Hitler did back in the 30s,” she said. “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.”

Last week, Putin put Russian troops on the Ukrainian peninsula in Crimea, insisting that Russia has a right to protect its interests and Russian-speakers in Crimea and elsewhere in Ukraine. However, there has been no sign of ethnic Russians facing attacks in Crimea, where they make up about 60 percent of the population, or elsewhere in Ukraine. The decision followed a new government coming to power last week in Ukraine following months of pro-democracy protests against the now-fugitive president, Viktor Yanukovych, and his decision to turn Ukraine toward Russia instead of the European Union.

Putin is a man “who believes his mission is to restore Russian greatness,” Clinton said.

That includes reasserting control of what used to be countries under the former Soviet Union and the Warsaw Pact, she said.

“When he looks at Ukraine, he sees a place that he believes is by its very nature part of Mother Russia.”

If Ukraine and Russia are to reach any kind of compromise, negotiations may start in Crimea, Clinton said.

“I think that's where the negotiations will start,” she said.

Clinton, a possible Democratic presidential candidate in 2016, also noted that Secretary of State John Kerry is in Kiev while Russia has agreed to meet with NATO in Brussels.

“So everybody is hoping that there will be a negotiation but a negotiation that respects Ukraine and doesn't ratify a reoccupation by Russia of Crimea,” she said. “So it's a real nail-biter, right now, but nobody wants to up the rhetoric. Everybody wants to cool it in order to find a diplomatic solution and that's what we should be trying to do.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.