Putin and Hitler: Finding similarities with Sentence-BERT

Many people have pointed out that Putin’s propaganda has a lot in common with Hitler’s speeches. I suspect Putin’s speechwriters use Hitler’s verbal output as a source of inspiration. That would be bitterly ironic, given that Russia is claiming to fight against the “Nazis” in Ukraine. But there are simply too many parallels, which are difficult to ignore.

I was interested in finding traces of Hitler’s ideas in Putin’s video address made on February 24 2022. On that day, Russia invaded Ukraine in order to “save” Russian-speaking people in the Donbass from the so-called “genocide”, and to protect Russia from the NATO expansion (which has sped up substantially after that).

For comparison, I took Hitler’s speech on September 26 1938, in which he justifies the German invasion of the Sudetenland, a part of Czechoslovakia where many ethnic Germans lived back then. Britain and France advised the Czechoslovak government to agree with the German demands, believing that Hitler’s claims were limited to that region. As we know, their appeasement strategy failed. On the contrary, Hitler took over the remaining parts of the country and then invaded Poland, with World War II as a result.

In order to measure the degree of semantic similarity of different texts, one can use Sentence-BERT (see the documentation and examples here). First, we need to create embeddings of the sentences in one or more texts, based on hundreds of features. After that, we can compute a measure of similarity between these semantic vectors.

The S-BERT models are supposed to work with different languages, but for simplicity I decided to compare English translations of the speeches. For every sentence in Putin’s speech, I chose the sentence in Hitler’s speech with the largest cosine similarity score. In some cases several sentences produced by Putin were matched to one and the same Hitler’s sentence.

As expected, we can see interesting parallels in the narratives. First, both Putin and Hitler present their countries as peaceful neighbours, abiding by the international agreements and existing borders. In the example below, the same sentence in Hitler’s speech is the best match for several sentences in Putin’s speech:

Hitler 1938Putin 2022
We gave guarantees to all Western states and have assured all countries bordering on us that Germany will respect their territorial integrity.
It is a fact that over the past 30 years we have been patiently trying to come to an agreement with the leading NATO countries regarding the principles of equal and indivisible security in Europe. … We have been treating all new post-Soviet states with respect and will continue to act this way. We respect and will respect their sovereignty, as proven by the assistance we provided to Kazakhstan when it faced tragic events and a challenge in terms of its statehood and integrity.

But the enemy does not let them live in peace. It creates chaos and destruction. For Hitler, the enemy is the government of Czechoslovakia who acts against ethnic Germans. For Putin, the enemy is more global: it is NATO and the USA, who have led wars in Serbia, Syria and Iraq, and are now supporting the regime of Ukrainian “neo-Nazis”, who engage in the “genocide” in the Donbass. Neither Hitler and Putin spare colourful details when describing the destruction, suffering and refugees.

Hitler 1938Putin 2022
We see the gruesome figures: one day there might be 10,000 refugees; the next day 20,000; yet another day later 37,000; and yet another two days later 41,000; then 62,000; and then 78,000; now that amounts to 90,000; 107,000; 137,000; and today we count 214,000.

Entire regions are depopulated, villages burnt to the ground, and with grenades and gas the Germans are driven out.

The tragedy, which was created for hundreds of thousands and even millions of people not only in Libya but in the whole region, has led to a large-scale exodus from the Middle East and North Africa to Europe.

The bombing of peaceful cities and vital infrastructure went on for several weeks. …
As a result we see a tremendous loss in human life, damage, destruction, and a colossal upsurge of terrorism.

The Germans in the Sudetenland and Russians in the Donbass are suffering. But Germany and Russia, respectively, must and will protect their lives and their right of self-determination.

Hitler 1938Putin 2022
No, they did so because they were powerless and helpless faced with their torturers, abandoned in this world of democracies.

For the first time, I demanded clearly that, now twenty years after President Wilson’s pledges, the right to self-determination must become reality for these three and a half million as well.
We had to stop that atrocity, that genocide of the millions of people who live there and who pinned their hopes on Russia, on all of us.
Freedom guides our policy, the freedom to choose independently our future and the future of our children.

Moreover, neither Czechoslovakia nor Ukraine are legitimate as states. For Hitler, Czechoslovakia is an artificial construct, not a proper nation. For Putin, Ukraine was torn off from Russia without asking its people.

Hitler 1938Putin 2022
Otherwise they most certainly would have realized that there is no such thing as a Czechoslovakian nation.
Let me remind you that the people living in territories which are part of today’s Ukraine were not asked how they want to build their lives when the USSR was created or after World War II.

Both Hitler and Putin boast about their cutting-edge weapons and courageous army, in order to intimidate their enemies and convince the audience of future victories:

Hitler 1938Putin 2022
I took care that the new army carried the newest, most modern weapons that exist.

And so we built up a Wehrmacht of which the German Volk can be proud today and which the world will respect whenever it shall be introduced.
Moreover, it [Russia] has a certain advantage in several cutting-edge weapons.

Dear compatriots, I am certain that devoted soldiers and officers of Russia’s Armed Forces will perform their duty with professionalism and courage.

To sum up, we see many similarities between Hitler’s and Putin’s speeches. Sentence-BERT is useful for text comparison.

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