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George Kennan on Russia: Insights and Recommendations

August 21, 2019
RM Staff

This compilation of observations and policy ideas about Russia by George F. Kennan is part of Russia Matters’ “Competing Views” rubric, where we share prominent American thinkers’ alternative takes on U.S.-Russian relations, Russia itself and America’s policies toward this country.

Portrait of George Kennan by Herman Landshoff, 1981. Republished with the permission of the Shelby White and Leon Levy Archives Center at the Institute for Advanced Study.
Portrait of George Kennan by Herman Landshoff, 1981. Republished with the permission of the Shelby White and Leon Levy Archives Center at the Institute for Advanced Study (Princeton, NJ, USA).

Kennan (1904-2005) was a U.S. foreign service officer who served as the U.S. ambassador to the Soviet Union in 1952 until he was declared persona non grata on Oct. 3, 1952. He joined the School of Historical Studies at the Institute of Advanced Studies in 1956, where he returned after serving as ambassador to Yugoslavia from 1961 to 1963. Kennan is perhaps best known for formulating the policy of “containment,” which shaped U.S. strategy toward the Soviet Union for much of the Cold War. In 1946, while serving as Chargé d’Affaires at the U.S. Embassy in Moscow, Kennan sent what has become known as the “long telegram” to the U.S. Department of State, warning his superiors of Soviet leader Joseph Stalin’s aggressive foreign policy aims. That cable and Kennan’s anonymous “X Article,” which was based on the telegram and published in Foreign Affairs a year later, formed the basis of the U.S. policy for deterring the Soviet Union’s expansion.

This compilation is meant as a sampling of Kennan’s views on what was the Soviet Union and then became the Russian Federation. These views span from Kennan’s take on the 1939 Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, which will have its 80th anniversary this week, to the beginning of the 21st century. All sections may be updated as we explore Kennan’s writings for more insights. The quotes below are divided into categories similar to those in Russia Matters’ current news and analysis digests, reflecting the most pertinent topic areas for U.S.-Russian relations broadly and for drivers of the two countries’ policies toward one another. Some sections have been removed as they were not relevant at the time of Kennan’s writing. Bulleted text that is not italicized, bracketed or in parentheses is a direct quote from Kennan. 

I. U.S. and Russian priorities for the bilateral agenda

New and original Cold Wars:

  • The military policies and even more the rhetoric of these two great countries are on a collision course, and I feel quite helpless in the face of this situation. About the Soviet Union, I can do nothing. These people have indulged themselves for 60 years in the habit of polemical exaggeration and distortion. It is as Russian as boiled cabbage and buckwheat kasha. But what about my own government and its state of blind militaristic hysteria? It has not only convinced itself of the reality of its own bad dreams, but it has succeeded in half-convincing most of our allies, and that to such an extent that anyone who challenges that view of the world appears to them as dangerously subversive. … Our respective views of reality are simply incompatible.” (Entry dated 04.16.81, “The Kennan Diaries,” 2014)
  • [T]he lone battle I was waging in those years [1948-1958]—a battle against the almost total militarization of Western policy towards Russia—was one which, had my efforts been successful, would have, or could have, obviated the vast expenses, dangers and distortions of outlook of the ensuing Cold War. (Entry dated 05.02.00, “The Kennan Diaries,” 2014)

Military issues, including NATO-Russia relations:

  • [T]here has been some tendency, over many years, to exaggerate the relative conventional strength of the USSR and to underestimate Soviet awareness of the enormous costs and risks of any form of aggression against NATO. (co-author, Foreign Affairs, 03.01.82)
  • The risk that an adventurist Soviet leader might take the terrible gamble of conventional aggression [in Europe] was greater in the past than it is today, and is greater today than it would be under no-first-use, backed up by an effective conventional defense. (co-author, Foreign Affairs, 03.01.82)
  • Soviet leaders would be most pleased to help the Alliance fall into total disarray, and would much prefer such a development to the inescapable uncertainties of open conflict. (co-author, Foreign Affairs, 03.01.82)
  • What the Alliance needs most today is not the refinement of its nuclear options, but a clear-cut decision to avoid them as long as others do. (co-author, Foreign Affairs, 03.01.82)
  • The original American pledge [to NATO], expressed in Article 5 of the Treaty, was understood to be a nuclear guarantee. It was extended at a time when only a conventional Soviet threat existed, so a readiness for first use was plainly implied from the beginning. To modify that guarantee now, even in the light of all that has happened since, would be a major change in the assumptions of the Alliance, and no such change should be made without the most careful exploration of its implications. (co-author, Foreign Affairs, 03.01.82)
  • The two superpowers are incapable of composing their differences and putting an end to the arms race, or even mitigating its extent. For this, I put by far the greater part of the blame on the United States. I see every reason to suppose that Gorbachev, if given any reasonable amount of political consideration and collaboration from the American side, would have been quite prepared to go in for fairly far reaching accommodations with respect to both nuclear and conventional weapons. (Entry dated 07.01.86, “The Kennan Diaries,” 2014)
  • On NATO expansion: The view, bluntly stated, is that expanding NATO would be the most fateful error of American policy in the entire post-Cold War era. Such a decision may be expected to inflame the nationalistic, anti-Western and militaristic tendencies in Russian opinion; to have an adverse effect on the development of Russian democracy; to restore the atmosphere of the cold war to East-West relations, and to impel Russian foreign policy in directions decidedly not to our liking … Such a decision may be expected to inflame the nationalistic, anti-Western and militaristic tendencies in Russian opinion; to have an adverse effect on the development of Russian democracy; to restore the atmosphere of the Cold War to East-West relations, and to impel Russian foreign policy in directions decidedly not to our liking. And, last but not least, it might make it much more difficult, if not impossible, to secure the Russian Duma's ratification of the START II agreement and to achieve further reductions of nuclear weaponry. (New York Times, 02.05.97)
  • On rationale of NATO expansion: Why, with all the hopeful possibilities engendered by the end of the Cold War, should East-West relations become centered on the question of who would be allied with whom and, by implication, against whom in some fanciful, totally unforeseeable and most improbable future military conflict? (New York Times, 02.05.97)
  • On the Senate’s ratification of NATO expansion: I think it is the beginning of a new Cold War. I think the Russians will gradually react quite adversely and it will affect their policies. I think it is a tragic mistake. There was no reason for this whatsoever. No one was threatening anybody else. This expansion would make the founding fathers of this country turn over in their graves. We have signed up to protect a whole series of countries, even though we have neither the resources nor the intention to do so in any serious way. [NATO expansion] was simply a lighthearted action by a Senate that has no real interest in foreign affairs. … Our differences in the Cold War were with the Soviet Communist regime. And now we are turning our backs on the very people who mounted the greatest bloodless revolution in history to remove that Soviet regime. And Russia's democracy is as far advanced, if not farther, as any of these countries we've just signed up to defend from Russia. It shows so little understanding of Russian history and Soviet history. Of course, there is going to be a bad reaction from Russia, and then [the NATO expanders] will say that we always told you that is how the Russians are—but this is just wrong. (Interview in New York Times, 05.02.98)
  • See also “Nuclear weapons and arms control” section.

Missile defense:

  • On the deployment of intermediate range U.S. missiles in Europe: The simplest and intuitively the most persuasive claim is that these new weapons are needed as a counter to the new Soviet SS-20 missiles; it may be a recognition of the surface attractiveness of this position that underlies President Reagan's striking-but probably not negotiable-proposal that if all the SS-20s are dismantled the planned deployments will be cancelled. Other officials have a quite different argument, that without new and survivable American weapons which can reach Russia from Western Europe there can be no confidence that the strategic forces of the United States will remain committed to the defense of Western Europe; on this argument the new missiles are needed to make it more likely that any war in Europe would bring nuclear warheads on the Soviet Union and thus deter the aggressor in the first place. This argument is logically distinct from any concern about the Soviet SS-20s, and it probably explains the ill-concealed hope of some planners that the Reagan proposal will be rejected. Such varied justifications cast considerable doubt on the real purpose of the proposed deployment. (co-author, Foreign Affairs, 03.01.82)

Nuclear weapons and arms control:

  • [N]o one on either side could guarantee beyond all possible doubt that if conventional warfare broke out on a large scale there would in fact be no use of nuclear weapons. We could not make that assumption about the Soviet Union, and we must recognize that Soviet leaders could not make it about us. As long as the weapons themselves exist, the possibility of their use will remain. (co-author, Foreign Affairs, 03.01.82)
  • There is strong reason to believe that no-first-use can also help in our relations with the Soviet Union. The Soviet government has repeatedly offered to join the West in declaring such a policy, and while such declarations may have only limited reliability, it would be wrong to disregard the real value to both sides of a jointly declared adherence to this policy. … [J]ust as a policy of no-first-use should reduce the pressures on our side for massive new nuclear forces, it should help to increase the international incentives for the Soviet Union to show some restraint of its own. (co-author, Foreign Affairs, 03.01.82)
  • It is important to avoid misunderstanding here. In the conditions of the 1980s, and in the absence of agreement on both sides to proceed to very large-scale reductions in nuclear forces, it is clear that large, varied and survivable nuclear forces will still be necessary for nuclear deterrence. The point is not that we Americans should move unilaterally to some "minimum" force of a few tens or even hundreds of missiles, but rather that once we escape from the pressure to seem willing and able to use these weapons first, we shall find that our requirements are much less massive than is now widely supposed. (co-author, Foreign Affairs, 03.01.82)
  • The Soviet government is already aware of the awful risk inherent in any use of these weapons, and there is no current or prospective Soviet "superiority" that would tempt anyone in Moscow toward nuclear adventurism. (All four of us are wholly unpersuaded by the argument advanced in recent years that the Soviet Union could ever rationally expect to gain from such a wild effort as a massive first strike on land-based American strategic missiles.) (co-author, Foreign Affairs, 03.01.82)
  • Not least among the problems that we have to handle in our relations with the major powers and some of the others as well is the continuing widespread development, cultivation and proliferation of nuclear weapons and other weapons of mass destruction. That is not merely a regional problem; it is a global one that involves a little less than the whole future of humanity and its stake in the future of civilization ... I believe that we, as the first country to have developed those weapons and the only one to use them against another population, and a largely helpless one at that, have a great and special responsibility and even a duty to take the lead in bringing those weapons under eventual control either through international organs or in having them eliminated from national arsenals. (Speech at National Committee on American Foreign Policy, 10.17.94)
  • As early as the 1950s it was recognized by both Prime Minister Churchill and President Eisenhower that the nuclear strength of both sides [the U.S. and the Soviet Union] was becoming so great that a nuclear war would be a ghastly catastrophe for all concerned. The following decades have only confirmed and intensified that reality. The time has come for careful study of the ways and means of moving to a new Alliance [NATO] policy and doctrine: that nuclear weapons will not be used unless an aggressor should use them first. (co-author, Foreign Affairs, 03.01.82)
  • [T]he evolution of essentially equivalent and enormously excessive nuclear weapons systems both in the Soviet Union and in the Atlantic Alliance has aroused new concern about the dangers of all forms of nuclear war. The profusion of these systems, on both sides, has made it more difficult than ever to construct rational plans for any first use of these weapons by anyone. (co-author, Foreign Affairs, 03.01.82)
  • The purpose of both [Ford and Carter] administrations was to reinforce deterrence, but the result has been to increase fear of nuclear war, and even of Americans as its possible initiators. Intended as contributions to both rationality and credibility, these excursions into the theory of limited nuclear war have been counterproductive in Europe. … Any use of nuclear weapons in Europe, by the Alliance or against it, carries with it a high and inescapable risk of escalation into the general nuclear war which would bring ruin to all and victory to none. (co-author, Foreign Affairs, 03.01.82)
  • President [Ronald] Reagan has already adjusted his views on the usefulness of early arms control negotiations, even though we remain in a time of general stress between Washington and Moscow. No administration should be held, and none should hold itself, to inflexible first positions on these extraordinarily difficult matters. (co-author, Foreign Affairs, 03.01.82)
  • Such is the destructive potential of advanced modern weapons that another great conflict between any of the leading powers could well do irreparable damage to the entire structure of modern civilization. Intimately connected with those problems, of course, is the necessity of restraining, and eventually halting, the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and of achieving their eventual total removal from national arsenals. (Foreign Affairs, 03.01.95)

U.S. general policies toward Russia and other bilateral issues:

  • [I]t is clear that the main element of any United States policy toward the Soviet Union must be that of a long-term, patient but firm and vigilant containment of Russian expansive tendencies. (“X Article,” Foreign Affairs, 07.01.47)
  • [T]he United States has it in its power to increase enormously the strains under which Soviet policy must operate, to force upon the Kremlin a far greater degree of moderation and circumspection than it has had to observe in recent years, and in this way to promote tendencies which must eventually find their outlet in either the breakup or the gradual mellowing of Soviet power. For no mystical, messianic movement—and particularly not that of the Kremlin—can face frustration indefinitely without eventually adjusting itself in one way or another to the logic of that state of affairs. (“X Article,” Foreign Affairs, 07.01.47)
  • The issue of Soviet-American relations is in essence a test of the overall worth of the United States as a nation among nations. To avoid destruction, the United States need only measure up to its own best traditions and prove itself worthy of preservation as a great nation. (“X Article,” Foreign Affairs, 07.01.47)
  • Perhaps the first thing to get straight here is the sort of Russia there is no use looking for. And such a Russia—the kind we may not look for—is easy to describe and envisage, for it would be a capitalistic and liberal-democratic one, with institutions closely resembling those of our own republic. (Foreign Affairs, 04.01.51)
  • In our relations with the people of Russia it is important, as it has never been important before, for us to recognize that our institutions may not have relevance for people living in other climes and conditions and that there can be social structures and forms of government in no way resembling our own and yet not deserving of censure. There is no reason why this realization should shock us. (Foreign Affairs, 04.01.51)
  • These, then, are the things for which an American well-wisher may hope from the Russia of the future: that she lift forever the Iron Curtain, that she recognize certain limitations to the internal authority of government and that she abandon, as ruinous and unworthy, the ancient game of imperialist expansion and oppression. If she is not prepared to do these things, she will hardly be distinguishable from what we have before us today, and to hasten the arrival of such a Russia would not be worth the care or thought of a single American. If she is prepared to do these things, then Americans will not need to concern themselves more deeply with her nature and purposes; the basic demands of a more stable world order will then have been met, and the area in which a foreign people can usefully have thoughts and suggestions will have been filled. (Foreign Affairs, 04.01.51)
  • I find the view of the Soviet Union that prevails today in large portions of our governmental and journalistic establishments so extreme, so subjective, so far removed from what any sober scrutiny of external reality would reveal, that it is not only ineffective but dangerous as a guide to political action. This endless series of distortions and oversimplifications; this systematic dehumanization of the leadership of another great country; this routine exaggeration of Moscow’s military capabilities and of the supposed iniquity of Soviet intentions; this monotonous misrepresentation of the nature and the attitudes of another great people ... this reckless application of the double standard to the judgment of Soviet conduct and our own; this failure to recognize, finally, the communality of many of their problems and ours as we both move inexorably into the modern technological age; and this corresponding tendency to view all aspects of the relationship in terms of a supposed total and irreconcilable conflict of concerns and of aims: these, believe me, are not the marks of the maturity and discrimination one expects of the diplomacy of a great power; they are the marks of an intellectual primitivism and naïveté unpardonable in a great government. (The New York Review of Books, 01.21.82)
  • Above all, we must learn to see the behavior of the leadership of that country [the Soviet Union] as partly the reflection of our own treatment of it. If we insist on demonizing these Soviet leaders—on viewing them as total and incorrigible enemies, consumed only with their fear or hatred of us and dedicated to nothing other than our destruction—that, in the end, is the way we shall assuredly have them—if for no other reason than that our view of them allows for nothing else—either for them or for us. (The New York Review of Books, 01.21.82)
  • On forcing Russia into concessions in a letter to J.  Lukacs[1]: I would like to say that it never pays, in my opinion, for one great power to take advantage of the momentary weakness or distraction of another great power in order to force upon it concessions it would never have accepted in normal circumstances. (Letter written in 1990 via “Through the History of the Cold War: The Correspondence of George F. Kennan and John Lukacs,” 2010) 
  • I fear the consequences of his [U.S. President Jimmy Carter’s] moralism—with respect both to Southern Africa and to the Soviet Union. The question of pressure on behalf of the Russian “dissidents” is one of those highly complicated political questions in which one has to work with contrary forces, carefully gauging the best compromise line between them. (Letter written in 1977 via “Through the History of the Cold War: The Correspondence of George F. Kennan and John Lukacs,” 2010)
  • One great part of the U.S. government professes to be seeking peace with Moscow; another great part of it—CIA and the Pentagon—appears to live and act on the assumption that we are either at war with Russia or are about to be. Both of these attitudes have their domestic cliques and constituencies; and our good president, anxious to return the support of both of them, wages peace, demonstratively, out of one pocket, and war, clandestinely, out of the other. Hence—his split mind. (Letter written in 1977 via “Through the History of the Cold War: The Correspondence of George F. Kennan and John Lukacs,” 2010)
  • I am coming to believe that it will never be possible to achieve anything resembling a sophisticated understanding of Russia in American governmental and journalistic circles. Recognizing this, to begin to think that it should be best if the relationship between the two countries were to be, over the long term (and by this conscious choice), a cold and distant one, directed solely to the maintenance of peace, but avoiding both polemics and the search for intimacy—a disillusioned relationship in other words, in which the avoidance of unnecessary misunderstandings in practical questions would be given a higher priority than the search for any real philosophical understanding or any wide ranging agreement on political values. (Letter written in 1983 via “Through the History of the Cold War: The Correspondence of George F. Kennan and John Lukacs,” 2010)
  • The lingering tendencies in [the United States] to see Russia as a great and dangerous enemy are simply silly, and should have no place in our thinking. We have never been at war with Russia, should never need to be and must not be. ... The greatest help we can give will be of two kinds: understanding and example. The example will of course depend upon the quality of our own civilization. It is our responsibility to assure that this quality is such as to be useful in this respect. We must ask ourselves what sort of example is going to be set for Russia by a country that finds itself unable to solve such problems as drugs, crime, decay of the inner cities, declining educational levels, a crumbling material substructure and a deteriorating environment. The understanding, on the other hand, will have to include the recognition that this is in many ways a hard and low moment in the historical development of the Russian people. They are just in process of recovery from all the heartrending reverses that this brutal century has brought to them. … We , too, may someday have our low moments. (Foreign Affairs, 12.01.90)

II. Russia’s domestic developments, history and personalities

Russia’s domestic developments:

  •  [T]he maintenance of this pattern of Soviet power, namely, the pursuit of unlimited authority domestically, accompanied by the cultivation of the semi-myth of implacable foreign hostility, has gone far to shape the actual machinery of Soviet power as we know it today. Internal organs of administration which did not serve this purpose withered on the vine. Organs which did serve this purpose became vastly swollen. The security of Soviet power came to rest on the iron discipline of the Party, on the severity and ubiquity of the secret police and on the uncompromising economic monopolism of the state. The organs of suppression, in which the Soviet leaders had sought security from rival forces, became in large measure the masters of those whom they were designed to serve. (“X Article,” Foreign Affairs, 07.01.47)
  • Any program of government for a future Russia will have to adjust itself to the fact that there has been this Soviet interlude, and that it has left its positive marks as well as its negative ones. And no members of future Russian governments will be aided by doctrinaire and impatient well-wishers in the West who look to them, just because they are seeking a decent alternative to what we know today as Bolshevism, to produce in short order a replica of the Western democratic dream. (Foreign Affairs, 04.01.51)
  • All over the world, strange and dark things happening: Russia disintegrating, drifting into the collapse of the traditional Russian Empire, experiencing the failure of perestroika and the ruin of Gorbachev, moving into a new Time of Troubles. This country on the verge of financial disaster, with incalculable consequences. (Entry dated 01.25.90, “The Kennan Diaries,” 2014)
  • The governmental structure to which the center of gravity of political power is now being transferred from what was formerly the [Communist] party’s political monopoly may adequately serve as the outward framework for a new and democratic form of political life, but only that. It will have to be filled in at many points with an entirely new body of methods, habits and—eventually—traditions of self-rule. For this, the minds of the younger generation are poorly prepared. It is not too much to say that there was much more real understanding for the principles and necessities of democratic rule—for the compromises, the restraints, the patience and the tolerance it demands—in the Russia of 1910 than is the case today. (Foreign Affairs, 12.01.90) 
  • There is great good in the Russian national character, and the realities of that country scream out today for a form of administration more considerate of that good. … Give them time; let them be Russians; let them work out their internal problems in their own manner. The ways by which peoples advance toward dignity and enlightenment in government are things that constitute the deepest and most intimate processes of national life. There is nothing less understandable to foreigners, nothing in which foreign interference can do less good. There are … certain features of the future Russian state that are of genuine concern to the outside world. But these do not include the form of government itself, provided only that it keep within certain well-defined limits, beyond which lies totalitarianism. (Foreign Affairs, 12.01.90)
  • The situation in Russia, too, is unmitigatedly dreadful. There, the future is wholly unpredictable. The best that could be said is that it will probably take years before things sort themselves out, and what may happen in the meantime is fearful to contemplate. …  When I am asked, “what do I think of the situation of Russia?,” my reaction is: ''How lovely it would be to live somewhere deep in the country.” (Entry dated 02.06.91, “The Kennan Diaries,” 2014)

Russian history:

  • The political personality of Soviet power as we know it today is the product of ideology and circumstances: ideology inherited by the present Soviet leaders from the movement in which they had their political origin, and circumstances of the power which they now have exercised for nearly three decades in Russia. (“X Article,” Foreign Affairs, 07.01.47)
  • [R]emember that it was outstandingly the intervention of 1918–1920 which is used by Soviet ideologists as the basis for the claim that the capitalist world was always hostile and bent on the destruction of Soviet power. (Letter written in 1960 via “Through the History of the Cold War: The Correspondence of George F. Kennan and John Lukacs,” 2010)
  • It is this … that [Mikhail] Gorbachev is running up against, whether he realizes it or not, as he sets out to correct what he sees as the enduring evils of Stalinism and Brezhnevism in Russian life. …But he may find, before he is finished, that in some respects he has to correct the mistakes and the blind spots of the Bolshevik seizures of power in 1917, and even to take upon his own shoulders some of the unfinished business of the old Tsarist regime. (Entry dated 08.05.87, “The Kennan Diaries,” 2014)
  • On the origins of the failure of the Soviet system: The Soviet system involved the continuing necessity of suppressing a restless younger intelligentsia … beyond that, it rested on an economy that ... was continuing to live, in many respects, in the conceptual and technological world of the nineteenth century, and was consequently becoming, on the international scene, increasingly uncompetitive. (Foreign Affairs, 12.01.90)

Russian personalities:

  • [Mikhail Gorbachev] is indeed a remarkable man in many respects. Whether he is destined for further success (it can, at best, remain limited) or for some sort of early political martyrdom, I am sure that he will go down in Russian history as one of the great, and probably tragic, liberal figures of the post-Petrine age. (Letter written in 1987 via “Through the History of the Cold War: The Correspondence of George F. Kennan and John Lukacs,” 2010)
  • [Gorbachev] is not a good politician in the democratic sense. He has no adequate interaction with the people at large. [Boris] Yeltsin, not an intellectual, but quite intelligent, is far ahead of him in these respects … Gorbachev is a resourceful man, with a great and deserved international reputation. Russia, whether united or not, needs him. (Entry dated 10.08.90, “The Kennan Diaries,” 2014)

III. Foreign affairs, trade and investment

Russia’s general foreign policy and relations with “far abroad” countries:

  • On the United Nations: These structures have always served the purpose for which they were designed just as long as the interests of the Great Powers gave substance and reality to their existence [...] The moment it became in the interests of one or the other of the Great Powers to alter the status quo, none of these treaty structures ever stood in the way of such alteration. (Entry dated 08.04.44, “The Kennan Diaries,” 2014)
  • On the one hand it [Soviet diplomacy] is more sensitive to contrary force, more ready to yield on individual sectors of the diplomatic front when that force is felt to be too strong, and thus more rational in the logic and rhetoric of power. On the other hand, it cannot be easily defeated or discouraged by a single victory on the part of its opponents. And the patient persistence by which it is animated means that it can be effectively countered not by sporadic acts which represent the momentary whims of democratic opinion but only by intelligent long-range policies on the part of Russia’s adversaries—policies no less steady in their purpose, and no less variegated and resourceful in their application, than those of the Soviet Union itself. (“X Article,” Foreign Affairs, 07.01.47)
  • The recent Soviet note asserts that it was only when Germany attacked the Western countries in 1940 that the American and British Governments "had no alternative but to acknowledge their miscalculations and to take the road of organizing jointly with the Soviet Union resistance" to the Axis countries. Can one avoid reminding Khrushchev that at that time his country had a Non-Aggression Pact with Germany, that responsible Soviet officials were just then congratulating the Germans on the fall of Paris, and that the official line of the Soviet Union was that it would "pull nobody's chestnuts out of the fire"? (Foreign Affairs, 01.01.59)
  • [T]he Baltic countries should never again be forced against the innermost feelings of their peoples into any relationship whatsoever with a Russian state; but they would themselves be foolish to reject close and cooperative arrangements with a tolerant, non-imperialistic Russia, which genuinely wished to overcome the unhappy memories of the past and to place her relations to the Baltic peoples on a basis of real respect and disinterestedness. (Foreign Affairs, 12.01.90)                                                                                        


  • Americans too easily forget what the people of the Federal Republic [West Germany] never can: that their position is triply exposed in a fashion unique among the large industrial democracies. They do not have nuclear weapons; they share a long common boundary with the Soviet empire; in any conflict on the central front their land would be the first battleground. None of these conditions can be changed, and together they present a formidable challenge. (co-author, Foreign Affairs, 03.01.82)
  • [France and the United Kingdom] have distance, and in one case water, between them and the armies of the Soviet Union; they also have nuclear weapons. (co-author, Foreign Affairs, 03.01.82)


  • [The British ambassador to the U.S.] made it evident that their great objection to our China policy lay in our commitment to Chiang Kai-Shek, which they viewed as something forcing the Chinese communists into the arms of the Russians. I pointed out to him that Formosa could not be regarded only as a part of the Chinese problem but must be regarded as part of the whole Far Eastern picture, and that whoever said Formosa must go to the communists to facilitate the emergence of an independent Chinese Communist policy vis-a-vis Moscow was really saying that all of the Far East and the Western Pacific, including possibly Japan, must be abandoned to communism, if necessary, for this same purpose. (Entry dated 07.25.50, “The Kennan Diaries,” 2014)


  • Ukrainians do not always speak with one voice. Some speak with a Polish voice, some with a Russian and some with a more purely Ukrainian one. It will not be easy for them all to agree on how a future Ukraine is to be independently governed, or indeed, even on what its borders should be. (Foreign Affairs, 12.01.90)
  • Ukraine is economically as much a part of Russia as Pennsylvania is a part of the United States. Who can say what the final status of the Ukraine should be unless he knows the character of the Russia to which the adjustment will have to be made? As for the satellite states: they must, and will, recover their full independence; but they will not assure themselves of a stable and promising future if they make the mistake of proceeding from feelings of revenge and hatred toward the Russian people who have shared their tragedy, and if they try to base that future on the exploitation of the initial difficulties of a well-intentioned Russian regime struggling to overcome the legacy of Bolshevism. (Foreign Affairs, 04.01.51)

Russia’s other would be post-Soviet neighbors:

If people in [the former Soviet Union] are going to go on thinking of national borders and minority problems in the way that they have thought of them in the past and continue to think of them today, Americans would do well to avoid incurring any responsibility for views or positions on these subjects; for any specific solutions they may advocate will someday become a source of great bitterness against them, and they will find themselves drawn into controversies that have little or nothing to do with the issue of human freedom. (Foreign Affairs, 12.01.90)

[1] Lukacs interpreted that latter as “This is Kennan’s early warning against the disastrous policy of later American governments—of Bill Clinton as well as of George Bush—to extend the American alliance system, including NATO, into Eastern Europe, up to the very borders of diminished Russia.”

Thomas Schaffner and Angelina Flood contributed to research for this compilation.

Pixabay photo.