POSTED: 2:19 p.m. HST, May 21, 2014
LAST UPDATED: 2:21 p.m. HST, May 21, 2014
LONDON » British politicians and royal-watchers expressed criticism, and some sympathy, Wednesday at reported comments by Prince Charles comparing Russian President Vladimir Putin's actions in Ukraine to the territory-seizing of Adolf Hitler.
The Daily Mail reported that the heir to the British throne made the comments in Halifax to Marienne Ferguson, whose family fled Poland before it was invaded by the Nazis in 1939.
Ferguson, who volunteers at an immigration museum Charles visited, said when she told Charles about her family background, he replied that Putin is doing the same thing as Hitler. Russia recently annexed Ukraine's Crimea region.
"I must say that I agree with him and am sure a lot of people do," Ferguson was quoted as saying. "But I was very surprised that he made the comment as I know they (members of the royal family) aren't meant to say these things."
The reported comments caused a media storm in Britain, where Charles has sometimes been accused of compromising the royal family's political neutrality with his strong views on topics including education, architecture and the environment.
Labour Party lawmaker Mike Gapes tweeted that in a constitutional democracy, "monarchy should be seen and not heard."
But Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg said the prince was "free to express himself."
"I have never been of this view that if you are a member of the royal family somehow you have to enter into some Trappist vow of silence," Clegg told the BBC.
Charles' office said it did not comment on private conversations, but stressed that "the Prince of Wales would not seek to make a public political statement during a private conversation." Officials in Moscow had no comment.
Ferguson later told the BBC it was "just a little remark. I didn't think it was going to make such a big uproar."
On June 6 Charles is due to join his mother, Queen Elizabeth II, and leaders of the World War II Allies — including Putin — at events in France to mark the 70th anniversary of the D Day landings.