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Henry Kissinger’s Road Less Taken
The erstwhile peacemaker reveals the policies of the west could lead to the dissolution of Russia
Love him or hate him, one must respect the experience and longevity of America’s foremost practitioner of realpolitik, Henry Kissinger. In a recent opinion piece he authored for The Spectator, Kissinger laid out a case for a diplomatic resolution to the Ukraine conflict. To no one’s surprise, the American elder statesman has come under vociferous attack from the Ukrainian government and their proxies and supporters for daring to suggest that Ukraine would be better served by promoting a diplomatic resolution to the conflict, as opposed to waiting in vain for a Ukrainian miliary victory that will more than likely never come.
As cogent and pragmatic the Kissinger approach appears to be on the surface, however, the substance of his argument belies certain factual predicates which reveal the reality that what Kissinger passes off as a negotiated peace would constitute a Russian defeat—in short, the Kissinger plan has no chance of coming to fruition.
Kissinger’s pro-NATO, pro-Ukraine bias is exposed early on in his article. “I have repeatedly expressed my support,” he writes, “for the allied military effort to thwart Russia’s aggression in Ukraine.” In one fell swoop, the Master of Diplomacy moots the historical record which shows that neither Ukraine nor Germany operated in good faith when embracing the Minsk accords of 2014 and 2015, instead using the agreement as little more than a device to buy time until the Ukrainian military could be trained and equipped to prevail against Russia in the Donbas and Crimea. Peace was never an option, only war.
Kissinger has not abandoned his position that Russia is the aggressor in this conflict. What he does endorse, however, is the notion that Russia cannot be defeated, and that Ukraine should accept a peace deal now, thereby mitigating against further territorial loss at the hands of Russia. “But the time is approaching,” Kissinger notes, “to build on the strategic changes which have already been accomplished and to integrate them into a new structure towards achieving peace through negotiation.”
The former Secretary of State likewise undermines any gravitas his argument might contain by engaging in the kind of fantasy-driven optimism that normally is only found in the most fanatic of Ukrainian propaganda. “Ukraine,” Kissinger declares, “has become a major state in Central Europe for the first time in modern history.” Ukraine was a trainwreck of a nation before its conflict with Russia, and ten months of warfare have only worsened its condition.
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The fantasy continues: “Aided by its allies,” Kissinger says, “and inspired by its President, Volodymyr Zelensky, Ukraine has stymied the Russian conventional forces which have been overhanging Europe since the second world war.”
The fact is that Ukraine, if left to its own devices, would have seen its army decisively defeated by Russia back in the summer of 2022. The infusion of tens of billions of dollars of advanced NATO weaponry, along with thousands of highly trained western mercenaries backed up by NATO intelligence, communications, and operational planning expertise, has allowed the Ukrainian military to extend its life while dealing some significant setbacks to the Russian military. But Russia, thanks to the mobilization of some 300,000 reservists, including 150,000 of whom have already been integrated into the Russian force structure deployed into the zone of military operation, has stabilized the situation at the front, blunting all Ukrainian offensive operations in the south and north while grinding down Ukrainian defenses along the Donetsk front. Far from stymied, Russia is about to deploy 10-15 divisions-worth of combat power in the SMO theater of operations, an offensive warfare capability for which Ukraine currently has no answer.
Kissinger’s battlefield delusion has clouded his sense of Ukraine’s geopolitical worth. According to Kissinger, Ukraine’s battlefield prowess “has mooted the original issues regarding Ukraine’s membership in NATO. Ukraine,” Kissinger continues, “has acquired one of the largest and most effective land armies in Europe, equipped by America and its allies. A peace process should link Ukraine to NATO, however expressed. The alternative of neutrality is no longer meaningful, especially after Finland and Sweden joined NATO.”
Kissinger’s article was written after General Zaluzhnyi’s interview with The Economist, during which time the Ukrainian general pointed out the harsh reality that without an additional infusion of some 300 main battle tanks, 500 infantry fighting vehicles, and 500 artillery pieces plus ammunition, the Ukrainian military would not be able to either carry out effective offensive operations against, or adequately defend themselves from, Russian forces gathering in the region. The “largest and most effective land army in Europe” title no longer applies (if it ever in fact did) to the Ukrainian army today—its manpower has been decimated, and its combat equipment eviscerated, since it undertook large-scale counter-offensive operations against Russia back in late August. Moreover, the Ukrainian army has achieved this status by getting ground up in combat operations that have witnessed the overwhelming quantity of the NATO weapon and equipment provided by NATO to Ukraine being destroyed on the battlefield by Russian forces.
While Kissinger does not concede that Russia may have the upper hand in the fighting in southern Russia today, he does acknowledge that it is, in fact, Ukraine that finds itself stymied and in need of a viable off ramp from the current combat. “If the pre-war dividing line between Ukraine and Russia cannot be achieved by combat or by negotiation,” Kissinger notes, “recourse to the principle of self-determination could be explored. Internationally supervised referendums concerning self-determination could be applied to particularly divisive territories which have changed hands repeatedly over the centuries.”
The main problem with this line of thinking is that it postulates as possible the notion that Russia would be willing to freely surrender sovereignty over some or all the territories that have been incorporated into the Russian Federation since this conflict began. Simply put—this will not happen, because legally-speaking, it cannot happen—the Russian Constitution forbids it.
Kissinger then goes on to play the benevolent peacemaker, listing all the consideration Russia should be shown by a victorious west when it comes to managing defeat. “Its historical role should not be degraded,” Kissinger declares.
The main reason for this, Kissinger notes, comes not from a posture of mercy, but rather the self-interest which accrues given Russia’s status as a major nuclear power. “Russia’s military setbacks have not eliminated its global nuclear reach, enabling it to threaten escalation in Ukraine. Even if this capability is diminished,” Kissinger declares, “the dissolution of Russia or destroying its ability for strategic policy could turn its territory encompassing 11 time zones into a contested vacuum. Its competing societies might decide to settle their disputes by violence. Other countries might seek to expand their claims by force. All these dangers would be compounded by the presence of thousands of nuclear weapons which make Russia one of the world’s two largest nuclear powers.”
Kissinger, the erstwhile peacemaker, in one fell swoop exposed the absolute danger posed by the west when it comes to its collective policies toward Russia—the fact that the policies of the west could lead (and, indeed, are designed to lead) to the dissolution of Russia. In short, the western support of Ukraine is very much an existential issue for Russia. With its national survival on the line, defeat, it seems, is not an option.
Nor, it seems, is diplomacy. “The road of diplomacy may appear complicated and frustrating,” Kissinger notes. “But progress to it requires both the vision and the courage to undertake the journey.”
It also requires a realistic appraisal of the situation, something Kissinger’s analysis lacks in its entirety.