Henry Kissinger discusses the Vietnam War with LBJ Presidential Library director Mark Updegrove, April 2016.
Former U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger discussing the Vietnam War with LBJ Presidential Library director Mark Updegrove, April 2016.

Kissinger on Russia: Insights and Recommendations

July 22, 2019
RM Staff
Originally published March 8, 2017. Most recently updates include select quotes from Winston Lord’s book “Kissinger on Kissinger: Reflections on Diplomacy, Grand Strategy and Leadership” published by St. Martin’s Press in May 2019 and other sources. Latest additions marked accordingly.

This evolving compilation of observations and policy ideas about Russia by eminent U.S. statesman Henry Kissinger was the first in Russia Matters’ “Competing Views” series, where we share prominent American thinkers’ alternative takes on U.S.-Russian relations, Russia itself and America’s policies toward the country.

Mr. Kissinger served as assistant to the president for national security affairs in 1969-1975 and as secretary of state in 1973-1977. He has been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize and the Presidential Medal of Honor. He has held various government advisory positions and is chairman of Kissinger Associates, an international consulting firm.

Mr. Kissinger—who has the ear of both President Trump and President Putin—advocates the normalization of the U.S.-Russian relationship, believing that “the goal should be to find a diplomacy to integrate Russia into a world order which leaves scope for cooperation.”

The quotes below are divided into categories similar to those in Russia Matters’ 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.

Bulleted text that is not italicized, bracketed, in parentheses or otherwise marked is a direct quote from Mr. Kissinger. All sections may be updated with both new statements and continued research into past statements.

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

Nuclear security:

  • At the end of the Cold War … many on both sides understood that the fates of Russia and the U.S. remained tightly intertwined. Maintaining strategic stability and preventing the spread of weapons of mass destruction became a growing necessity, as did the building of a security system for Eurasia, especially along Russia's long periphery. (Speech in Moscow, 02.04.16)

Iran’s nuclear program and related issues:

  • On the nuclear deal brokered by the U.S. and Russia with Iran: I would not have made [the agreement], but we will not get a great deal out of ending it now. … We have already made most of the concessions that we have to make. [With the agreement in place] the Iranians have to at least stay within [its] technical limits. I think ending the agreement now would enable the Iranians to do more than us. (The Algemeiner, 11.11.16)
  • Negotiations that began [in 2003] … as an international effort to prevent an Iranian capability to develop a nuclear arsenal are ending with an agreement that concedes this very capability, albeit short of its full capacity in the first 10 years. (The Wall Street Journal, op-ed co-authored with George Shultz, 04.07.15)
  • See also the missile defense section.

New and original Cold Wars:

  • Putin should come to realize that, whatever his grievances, a policy of military impositions would produce another Cold War. For its part, the United States needs to avoid treating Russia as an aberrant to be patiently taught rules of conduct established by Washington. (The Washington Post, 03.05.14)
  • There are at least two schools of thought.
    • One says that Russia has violated international law by annexing Crimea, so it must be taught again the lessons of the Cold War. … If they collapse in that process, that’s the price they have to pay and, in a way, an opportunity for world order to reestablish itself. (Attributes this belief to “left-wing Democrats and neoconservative Republicans.”)
    • Mine is the minority school of thought: Russia is a vast country undergoing a great domestic trauma of defining what it is. Military transgressions need to be resisted. But Russia needs a sense that it remains significant. We will probably win a new Cold War; but statesmen must comprehend the limits of their definition of interest. A post-Tito-type Yugoslavia wracked by conflict stretching from St. Petersburg to Vladivostok—from Europe across the Middle East to Asia—is not in America’s interest. (The Atlantic, 11.10.16)
  • My thinking on international relations was formed during the Cold War, and in terms of danger, the conflict between a nuclear armed Russia and a nuclear armed America was greater than any single danger we face today. And the most anguishing problem one could face was what happens if the strategic plans of both sides had to be implemented, or were implemented by accident or whatever. But it was a relatively less complex issue than we face today. (C-SPAN, 01.30.15)
  • NEW Back-translated from Russian: Right now our relations are in a more frozen state [than in Soviet times] because there isn’t consistent and systematic dialogue. … During the period of confrontation, during the Cold War, the situation was different. Then the task on the agenda was to alleviate confrontation. Now the task is to create a new world order, and all states must take part in its creation with the conviction that there will be a place for them… I do not consider the current period [in U.S.-Russian relations] to be a cold war... Of course, I look at this as an American… I support the main interests and tenets of American policy. But Russia is a great state with a big history, and it is difficult for me to imagine an international order in which Russia is not among the major players. That is the goal. Russia and the U.S. must show [each other] mutual respect and continue cooperating. Much time will pass before we achieve this success, but we must always remember this goal. (Interview to Rossiyskaya Gazeta, 03.26.19)
  • You have the view that Reagan started the process [of bringing down the USSR] with his Evil Empire speech, which, in my opinion, occurred at the point when the Soviet Union was already well on the way to defeat. We were engaged in a long-term struggle, generating many competing analyses. … We needed to wage the Cold War from a posture in which we would not be isolated, and in which we would have the best possible basis for conducting unavoidable conflicts. Finally, we had a special obligation to find a way to avoid nuclear conflict, since that risked civilization. We sought a position to be ready to use force when necessary but always in the context of making it clearly demonstrable as a last resort. (The National Interest, 08.19.15)
  • Kissinger to President Nixon in 1972: In 20 years your successor, if he’s as wise as you, will wind up leaning towards the Russians against the Chinese. … [The United States needs] to play this balance-of-power game totally unemotionally. Right now, we need the Chinese to correct the Russians and to discipline the Russians. (The Washington Post, 12.14.16)
  • Asked in the aftermath of the Cold War what he saw as the most important trends in the world: You must never forget that the unification of Germany is more important than the development of the European Union, that the fall of the Soviet Union is more important than the unification of Germany, and that the rise of India and China is more important than the fall of the Soviet Union. (Wall Street Journal, 02.05.18)
  • The generation governing the Soviet Union in the 1970s accumulated military and geopolitical power less as an expression of long-range geopolitical aims than as a substitute for them. Inevitably the pursuit of strength for its own sake frightened most of the noncommunist world and brought about a tacit coalition of all industrial nations plus China against the Soviet Union, which made its ultimate collapse inevitable. (“Years of Renewal,” 1999, via “Kissinger the Negotiator,” 2018)
  • On reducing Soviet influence in the Middle East in the early 1970s: The best strategy was to demonstrate that the Soviet Union’s capacity to foment crises was not matched by its ability to resolve them. … In pursuit of this goal [of reducing Soviet influence in the Middle East], the United States … blocked every Arab move that resulted from Soviet military support or involved a Soviet military threat; and it took charge of the peace process once frustration with the stalemate had brought some key Arab leaders to dissociate from the Soviet Union and turn to the United States. American strategy was based on the proposition that the Soviet Union should be faced with the choice of either separating itself from its radical Arab clients or accepting a reduction of its influence. In the end, this strategy curtailed Soviet influence and placed the United States into the pivotal position in Middle East diplomacy. The Nixon Administration pursued two courses to achieve this goal. During the Middle East War, it kept open an almost daily channel of communication with the Kremlin to avoid permitting decisions to be taken in the heat of the moment or on the basis of inadequate information. … Simultaneously we conducted negotiations on a range of issues [including enhanced trade] in order to give the Soviet leaders a stake they would be reluctant to jeopardize. (“Diplomacy,” 1995, via “Kissinger the Negotiator,” 2018)
  • On the Nixon-era pivot to China and the advantages of “triangular” diplomacy over the bilateral superpower relationship: By March 1969, Chinese-American relations seemed essentially frozen in the same hostility of mutual incomprehension and distrust that had characterized them for twenty years. The new Administration had a notion, but not yet a strategy, to move toward China. Policy emerges when concept encounters opportunity. Such an occasion arose when Soviet and Chinese troops clashed in the frozen Siberian tundra along a river of which none of us had ever heard. … [S]o long as China had more to fear from the Soviet Union than it did from the United States, China’s self-interest would impel it to cooperate with the United States. … I was always concerned that, if we announced that China was a weapon against Russia, then it became a mortal conflict, and all the more so as we were also pursuing a policy of détente with the Soviet Union, and we wanted to give them a genuine option of improving their relations with us. … Clearly, triangular diplomacy required agility. We had somehow not to flex our own muscles, but, as in judo, to use the weight of an adversary to propel him in a desired direction. … Prior to my secret trip to China, Moscow had been stalling for over a year on arrangements for a summit between Brezhnev and Nixon… [T]hen, within a month of my visit to Beijing, the Kremlin reversed itself and invited Nixon to Moscow. (“The White House Years,” 2000, and “Diplomacy,” 1995, and “Transcript of the American Secretaries of State Project: Henry A. Kissinger,” all via “Kissinger the Negotiator,” 2018)
  • On handling crises amid strategic negotiations with long-term goals: It was not a question ever of saying “now, we deal with Russia, now, we deal with China.” We tried to have a coherent policy. (“Kissinger the Negotiator,” 2018)

Military issues, including NATO-Russia relations:

  • If we treat Russia seriously as a great power, we need at an early stage to determine whether their concerns can be reconciled with our necessities. We should explore the possibilities of a status of nonmilitary grouping on the territory between Russia and the existing frontiers of NATO. (The National Interest, 08.19.15)
  • NEW On the future of NATO: If the West withdraws providing stability, China and India will step in, as will Russia. World politics will be revolutionized. If the West engages in conflict without strategic concept, chaos will ensue. (The Guardian, 06.27.17)
  • Russia should not be regarded as an incipient NATO country; such a goal would simply move to the Manchurian border the crises we now face on the Ukrainian one. The goal should be to find a diplomacy to integrate Russia into a world order which leaves scope for cooperation. (The Atlantic, 11.10.16)
  • There has been a tendency to think of Russia as if it were a potential NATO country and that it should be like other NATO countries, democratic and so on. But Russia has had a completely different history. ... So much of Russian history has been a fight against a hostile environment that came from all directions. And now they have had a huge upheaval of losing much of their position in Central and Western Europe. So the challenge is whether it is possible to have a relationship with Russia in which we recognize their special characteristics but they also understand our necessities. We should not be in permanent confrontation with them and they should permit countries on their borders to have an autonomous existence. But the relationship in which we should respect their own individual character, and I believe it’s possible, but we shouldn’t deal with it in a mechanical way of putting every territory that is abandoned into military arrangements. (CBS’s “Face the Nation,” 12.18.16)
  • Advocates of NATO expansion say that Russia should not be concerned, that NATO has no intention of attacking Moscow. Historical experience obliges Russian leaders to assess the capabilities of their neighbors. … [Successful negotiations cannot] be achieved by walking into the Kremlin and declaring, “Here is our plan.” Like all dealings with Moscow, it would require an understanding of the Russian spirit and an appreciation of Russian history, as well as sufficient military power to squelch any temptations. (The Atlantic, 11.10.16)
  • The mistake NATO has made is to think that there is a sort of historic evolution that will march across Eurasia and not to understand that somewhere on that march it will encounter something very different to a Westphalian entity. And for Russia this is a challenge to its identity. (Financial Times, 07.20.18)
  • See also section on Ukraine below.

Missile defense:

  • I favor developing a joint missile defense with Russia against Iran. But the U.S. also needs missile defenses controlled by the United States against strategic attack from other directions. So, let’s cooperate with Russia on Iran, but we cannot relinquish missile defenses aimed at other threats—especially unauthorized launches and accidental launches. (The Christian Science Monitor, 04.20.10)

Nuclear arms control:

  • On alleged Russian violations of the INF Treaty: The western border is the least threatened border of Russia, paradoxically, but it has a long border with China with a huge inequality of populations, and a long border with the jihadist regions of the world. So, the [Russian] motivation [for developing this weapon] is to undoubtedly use nuclear weapons to balance the numerical inferiority of Russian forces along many of its borders. But to the extent that it is incompatible with signed agreements, the United States, even if it theoretically understands the motivation, cannot accept that nuclear arms control treaties are violated because a new strategic opportunity develops. So I believe that we have to be very firm in insisting on carrying out these agreements. (C-SPAN, 01.30.15)
  • NEW On deterrence in the age of AI: In the nuclear age, strategy evolved around the concept of deterrence. Deterrence is predicated on the rationality of parties, and the premise that stability can be ensured by nuclear and other military deployments that can be neutralized only by deliberate acts leading to self-destruction; the likelihood of retaliation deters attack. Arms-control agreements with monitoring systems were developed in large part to avoid challenges from rogue states or false signals that might trigger a catastrophic response. Hardly any of these strategic verities can be applied to a world in which AI plays a significant role in national security. If AI develops new weapons, strategies and tactics by simulation and other clandestine methods, control becomes elusive, if not impossible. The premises of arms control based on disclosure will alter: Adversaries’ ignorance of AI-developed configurations will become a strategic advantage—an advantage that would be sacrificed at a negotiating table where transparency as to capabilities is a prerequisite. The opacity (and also the speed) of the cyberworld may overwhelm current planning models. (The Atlantic, August 2019)


  • This spreading power vacuum [arising from the disintegration of state power and the growing number of ungoverned territories in the world] cannot be dealt with by any state, no matter how powerful on an exclusively national basis. It requires sustained cooperation between the United States and Russia, and other major powers. (Speech in Moscow, 02.04.16)

Conflict in Syria:

  • The U.S. has already acquiesced in a Russian military role [in Syria]. Painful as this is to the architects of the 1973 system, attention in the Middle East must remain focused on essentials. And there exist compatible objectives. In a choice among strategies, it is preferable for ISIS-held territory to be reconquered either by moderate Sunni forces or outside powers than by Iranian jihadist or imperial forces. For Russia, limiting its military role to the anti-ISIS campaign may avoid a return to Cold War conditions with the U.S. (Wall Street Journal, 10.16.15)
  • It is clear that the local and regional factions [in Syria] cannot find a solution on their own. Compatible U.S.-Russian efforts coordinated with other major powers could create a pattern for peaceful solutions in the Middle East and perhaps elsewhere.  (Speech in Moscow, 02.04.16)
  • Russia’s motivation [in Syria and the Middle East] is threefold: first, to attempt to reverse the result of the Arab-Israeli War of 1973, which expelled Russian strategic influence from the region; two, to preserve their naval base in Latakia; three and above all, to check the growth of non-state terrorist groups that could reach into Russia, especially in the Caucasus, if the Assad regime collapsed in a vacuum. (The Atlantic, 11.10.16)
  • Russia’s unilateral military action in Syria is the latest symptom of the disintegration of the American role in stabilizing the Middle East order that emerged from the Arab-Israeli war of 1973. (Wall Street Journal, 10.16.15)
  • The best way to combine democratic methods and a Syrian state is “cantonization,” or division, of the country into regions that correspond to its component minority groups. … From this, one could move in two directions … [the second of which is] an off-ramp for Assad, who cannot endure as the leader of unified Syria but could perhaps be given 10 or 12 months to transition first into the Alawite portion of the country, and then out of Syria altogether. In this effort, Russia would likely participate. (The Atlantic, 11.10.16)
  • Down the road … if Iran accepts acting as a country instead of a cause, then cooperation will be possible and should at that point be steady and sustained. Russia must be built into this diplomacy. (The Atlantic, 11.10.16)
  • On the surface, Russia’s intervention serves Iran’s policy of sustaining the Shiite element in Syria. In a deeper sense, Russia’s purposes do not require the indefinite continuation of Mr. Assad’s rule. It is a classic balance-of-power maneuver to divert the Sunni Muslim terrorist threat from Russia’s southern border region. It is a geopolitical, not an ideological, challenge and should be dealt with on that level. Whatever the motivation, Russian forces in the region—and their participation in combat operations—produce a challenge that American Middle East policy has not encountered in at least four decades. (Wall Street Journal, 10.16.15)

Cyber security:

  • Regarding allegations of Russian hacking: Yes, undoubtedly hacking [took place] but the use that was allegedly made of this hacking isn’t clear to me. (CBS’s “Face the Nation,” 12.18.16)
  • We haven’t done enough internationally to constrain hacking. It will have to be addressed as a problem. But it is very difficult to communicate about it because nobody wants to admit the scope of what they are doing and I don’t doubt that the Russians are hacking us, and I hope that we are doing some hacking there. Then what use do you make [of it]? Whether it is a hostile use—that then becomes an international problem. (CBS’s “Face the Nation,” 12.18.16)
  • Clearly if the Soviets or if the Russians harass us with hacking we should retaliate and it should be understood that we will, but I wouldn’t do that as a one-shot operation. (CBS’s “Face the Nation,” 12.18.16)

Energy exports:

  • NEW One of our efforts was, which today it’s hard to imagineI tried to get Russia to sell oil on the open market as a threat to OPEC after the 1973 war and oil embargo. I tried to find arrangements where Russia could pay for grain and things like that with oil. Our reasoning was that if there were more oil on the market, it would depress the price. But it was violently opposed by the security elements in the government, and by the oil companies also. So we never could make that work. But Winston [Lord] is right: Russia and China were not major economic players in the Nixon Administration. So we had to be aware of economics, but it wasn’t a day-to-day concern. (“Kissinger on Kissinger)

Bilateral economic ties:

  • To be updated.

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

  • For the West, the demonization of Vladimir Putin is not a policy; it is an alibi for the absence of one. (The Washington Post, 03.05.14)
  • The United States has put forward no concept of its own except that Russia will one day join the world community by some automatic act of conversion. … Breaking Russia has become an objective; the long-range purpose should be to integrate it. (The National Interest, 08.19.15)
  • In the emerging multipolar order, Russia should be perceived as an essential element of any new global equilibrium, not primarily as a threat to the United States. (Speech in Moscow, 02.04.16)
  • It is not possible to bring Russia into the international system by conversion. It requires deal-making, but also understanding. It is a unique and complicated society. Russia must be dealt with by closing its military options but in a way that affords it dignity in terms of its own history. (The Atlantic, 11.10.16)
  • NEW On the strategy behind détente: I don’t think that Nixon ever used the word “détente.” That’s a word that was used by others. And I’m not conscious that I ever used the word until our critics did. The central debate was this: our critics took the position that Russia was an inherently evil state, and they had to be defeated in the Cold War, and that any negotiation with Russia was granting them a moral equivalence and thereby strengthening them in their aggressive maneuvers around the world, and that the culmination of the Cold War had to be some kind of overall diplomatic confrontation or a war. … We thought that we owed it to the people of the United States and to the people of the world to show that if a conflict arose, which we had already demonstrated we were prepared to respond to, that if a conflict arose, we had done the maximum to create more peaceful conditions. And, secondly, if there were elements in the Soviet system that would be willing to coexist on a basis of mutual respect, that we would give them the chance to do that. So we had two tracks to our policy: determined resistance to any Soviet attempt to go beyond the established dividing lines but, at the same time, to ease the confrontation to the extent compatible with our principle to reduce the dangers of nuclear war. (“Kissinger on Kissinger”)
  • Russia must learn a lesson it has so far refused to consider: that the insistence on equivalence goes both ways and that it cannot gain respect by making unilateral demands or demonstrations of power. (The Atlantic, 11.10.16)
  • Russia meanwhile is challenging the strategic orientation of states once constrained in its satellite orbit. The West has an interest in vindicating their independence and vitality. Still, Russia is mounting an offensive on the border on which, paradoxically, it is least inherently threatened. On many other issues—for example, Islamist extremism—American and Russian interests may prove compatible. We need to address the immediate challenges Russia poses while also defining a context for its long-term role in the international equilibrium. (Statement before the Senate Armed Services Committee, 01.29.15)
  • In response to the question, “Can we reset relations with Russia?”: “Reset” is not the appropriate word. I prefer “adaptation to the new circumstances of a world in upheaval.” The issue is whether both countries are able to achieve their minimum security objectives and cooperate towards stability in regions within their reach. It is a formidable, but necessary, enterprise. (The Atlantic, 11.10.16)
  • NEW On the viability of economic sanctions: Russia is, in my view, not a strong country.  Russia is a weak country with a large military establishment, and a very determined leadership. … And Russia has presented historically a dual challenge to itself, and to the world. It covers 11 time zones. … It is involved in every region of the world. It has no natural borders, so it has always … tended to expand, to extend its security bill. … Russia being weak, sanctions are, of course, a normal weapon. One cannot accept the notion that Russia has a right to alter the shape of the Ukraine by its own unilateral decisions. But one's effort should be not to break up Russia, but to retain Russia in the system in some fashion. So I … would have agreed with the … sanctions, but I would also think now how to bring Russia back into a community-of-nations concept, or even a cooperative relationship with the United States. (Senate Armed Services Committee, 01.25.18)
  • On the July 2018 summit between Putin and Trump in Helsinki: It was a meeting that had to take place. I have advocated it for several years. It has been submerged by American domestic issues. It is certainly a missed opportunity. But I think one has to come back to something. (Financial Times, 07.20.18)
  • In response to an interviewer’s question about Trump—are we underestimating him? Is he in fact “doing us the unacknowledged service of calming the Russian bear?” I think Trump may be one of those figures in history who appears from time to time to mark the end of an era and to force it to give up its old pretenses. It doesn’t necessarily mean that he knows this, or that he is considering any great alternative. It could just be an accident. (Financial Times, 07.20.18)

II. Russia’s domestic developments, history and personalities

Russia’s domestic developments:

  • To be updated.

Russian history:

  • Geopolitically, Putin governs a country with 11 time zones. Few countries in history have started more wars or caused more turmoil than Russia in its eternal quest for security and status. It is also true, however, that at critical junctures Russia has saved the world’s equilibrium from forces that sought to overwhelm it: from the Mongols in the 16th century, from Sweden in the 18th century, from Napoleon in the 19th century and from Hitler in the 20th century. (The Atlantic, 11.10.16)
  • Russia’s geo-strategic scale, its almost mystic conception of greatness, and the willingness of its people to endure hardship have helped over the centuries to preserve the global equilibrium against imperial designs by Mongols, Swedes, French and Germans. (CapX, 08.02.17)
  • From Peter the Great to Vladimir Putin, circumstances have changed, but the rhythm has remained extraordinarily consistent. … [Russia is] a uniquely “Eurasian” power, sprawling across two continents but never entirely at home in either. … [It has learned its geopolitics] from the hard school of the steppe, where an array of nomadic hordes contended for resources on an open terrain with few fixed borders. (“World Order,” 2015, via Foreign Policy, 12.23.16)
  • Perhaps most important has been a fundamental gap in historical conception. For the United States, the end of the Cold War seemed like a vindication of its traditional faith in inevitable democratic revolution. It visualized the expansion of an international system governed by essentially legal rules. But Russia's historical experience is more complicated. To a country across which foreign armies have marched for centuries from both East and West, security will always need to have a geopolitical, as well as a legal, foundation. When its security border moves from the Elbe 1,000 miles east towards Moscow, Russia's perception of world order will contain an inevitable strategic component. The challenge of our period is to merge the two perspectives—the legal and the geopolitical—in a coherent concept. (Speech in Moscow, 02.04.16)
  • The notion that Russia is organically a kind of NATO state ignores the experience of history. America was built by people with the faith and courage to explore new lands. Russia was built by an elite who transported serfs to distant fields and by tsars who proclaimed, “This swamp land will be the city of Odessa or the city of St. Petersburg.” They are sustained in part by a sort of mystic relationship with their hardships and their vision. … Charles XII of Sweden marched into Russia because he thought it would be easy to impose a Swedish ruler in Moscow. What he found were Russian peasants burning their own crops in order to deny food to the invaders. … He had marched across Europe, but he had never seen this before. (The Atlantic, 11.10.16)

Russian personalities:

  • When Putin resumed the presidency in 2012, the reset inevitably faltered. To understand Putin, one must read Dostoyevsky, not “Mein Kampf.” He knows that Russia is far weaker than it once was—indeed far weaker than the United States. He is the head of a state that for centuries defined itself by its imperial greatness, but then lost 300 years of imperial history upon the collapse of the Soviet Union. Russia is strategically threatened on each of its borders: by a demographic nightmare on its Chinese border; by an ideological nightmare in the form of radical Islam along its equally long southern border; and to the West, by Europe, which Moscow considers a historic challenge. Russia seeks recognition as a great power, as an equal, and not as a supplicant in an American-designed system. (The Atlantic, 11.10.16)
  • Putin is a serious strategist—on the premises of Russian history. (The Washington Post, 03.05.14)
  • [Putin] is a character out of Dostoevsky, and he is a man with a great sense of connection and inward connection to Russian history as he sees it, and he is a cold calculator of the Russian national interest as he conceives it and which he believes, probably correctly, has some very unique features. So for him, the question of Russian identity is very crucial because as a result of the collapse of communism, Russia has lost about 300 years of its history and so that the question of “What is Russia?” looms very large in their mind and that’s a problem we have never had. (CBS’s “Face the Nation,” 12.18.16)
  • [Putin’s view of international politics] is the heritage of the worldview identified with the novelist Fyodor Dostoevsky, as exemplified in his 1880 speech... Its passionate call for a new spirit of Russian greatness based on the spiritual qualities of the Russian character was taken up in the late 20th century by Alexander Solzhenitsyn. Abandoning his exile in Vermont to return to Russia, Solzhenitsyn ... called for action to save the Russian people who had been “driven out” of Russia. In the same spirit, Putin has railed against what he has interpreted as a 300-year-old Western effort to contain Russia. (CapX, 08.02.17)
  • Starting with American support for the Orange Revolution in Ukraine in 2004, Putin has gradually convinced himself that the U.S. is structurally adversarial. By “structural,” I mean that he may very well believe that America defines its basic interest as weakening Russia, transforming us from a potential ally to another foreign country that he balances with China and others. (The Atlantic, 11.10.16)

III. Foreign affairs, trade and investment

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

  • Russia has evolved to what amounts to a definition of absolute security [and] absolute insecurity for some of its neighbors. Russia wants to be accepted by Europe and transcend it simultaneously. Kissinger added that Putin's view of international politics is reminiscent of 1930s European nationalist authoritarianism. (AP, 06.27.17)
  • Look at Syria and Ukraine. It’s a unique characteristic of Russia that upheaval in almost any part of the world affects it, gives it an opportunity and is also perceived by it as a threat. Those upheavals will continue. I fear they will accelerate. (Financial Times, 07.20.18)
  • In the contemporary period, Russia will be important in overcoming radical Islam, partly because it is home to some 20 million Muslims, particularly in the Caucasus and along Russia’s southern border. Russia will also be a factor in the equilibrium of Asia. (The Atlantic, 11.10.16)


  • Germany can and should play an important role in the construction of European and international order. But it is not the ideal principal negotiating partner about the security of Europe on a border that is two hundred miles from Stalingrad. (The National Interest, 08.19.15)


  • In response to the question, “How greatly do you rate the chances of a real Sino-Russian rapprochement?”: It’s not in either of their natures, I think. (The National Interest, 08.19.15)
  • In response to the question, “Is China pushing for a more Sinocentric world or can it be integrated into some sort of Westphalian framework?”: That’s the open question. It’s our task. We’re not good at it, because we don’t understand their history and culture. I think that their basic thinking is Sinocentric. But it may produce consequences that are global in impact. Therefore, the challenge of China is a much subtler problem than that of the Soviet Union. The Soviet problem was largely strategic. This is a cultural issue: Can two civilizations that do not, at least as yet, think alike come to a coexistence formula that produces world order? (The National Interest, 08.19.15)
  • In response to interviewer’s observation that Russian “clearly would like … a much closer relationship” with China: But partly because we’ve given them no choice. (The National Interest, 08.19.15)
  • NEW On using Russia as a strategic counterweight against China: I visualize China as a potential partner in the construction of a world order. Of course, if that does not succeed, we will be in a position of conflict, but my thinking is based on the need to avoid that situation. So, our problem is not to find allies around the world with which to confront China. Our fundamental problem should be to find solutions to some of the problems that concern us both. … This particular approach of beginning a new administration with finding an additional ally against a country with which we should have a cooperative relationship is simply not correct. And the only reason to even talk about it is because it illustrates something important about the present world: Neither China nor America need allies to fight each other. What we need is concepts by which we can work together to set limits to conflicts. So that is my basic view. (Wilson Center, 09.13.18)
  • NEW [In] the period in which I functioned, there was a conflict between Russia and China, so we contemplated that if we could succeed in putting America in a position where we were closer to each of them than they were to each other, we would have the maximum bargaining position. That was our basic strategy. In the present situation, the United States is in conflict, or kind of in conflict, with both China and Russia. That of course weakens—we cannot use that relationship … in the same degree. But as a practical proposition for American diplomacy, we should avoid, if we can, being in conflict with two major powers simultaneously that have access to each other. … Historically, it is the essence of a rising power that it steps on the feet of the established power by virtue of its increased scope. … I believe it will be a task of any president to see whether they can find an honorable way of avoiding a major war with China. (Remarks at Bush Presidential Center Leadership Forum, 04.11.19)
  • NEW When pondering in 1969 whether to engage China: The major point is we said to each other, “We may have a decision to make. The Soviet Union may attack China this summer. We have no relations with China. They are permanently hostile. They’re attacking us diplomatically and everywhere, but what’s our interest in this conflict?” And we decided, and of course that means Nixon decided, that it was against the American national interest to have China defeated, and that it was against the national interest to encourage Russia, indeed that it was in the national interest to discourage Russia. (“Kissinger on Kissinger”)
  • NEW We did not want Russia to be the sole spokesman of the communist world; we wanted to split it. Second, we wanted to engage in an initiative that showed that we had a global view, and not just the regional view of Vietnam. Third, we thought we might, if it worked, balance China against Russia. And we believed that these objectives were so important that Nixon was willing to run the risk of Soviet displeasure. We did not know how the Soviet Union would react. (“Kissinger on Kissinger”)
  • NEW We had no particular interest in the [1969] border dispute, but we had an interest to prevent the Soviet Union, after occupying Czechoslovakia, from succeeding in dominating China. If that happened, the Soviets might be able to achieve a dominant position simply by military threats. (“Kissinger on Kissinger,” Kindle edition, p. 138)
  • NEW I believe it is correct to say that both China and the United States saw in the other a counterweight against a threatening Soviet Union. We opened to China, with which we had no relations to speak of at the time, in order to introduce an additional element of calculation for the Russians, for the Soviets. And also, to give our own people hope that in the period of the Vietnam War and domestic divisions, their government had a vision of a peaceful world that included elements that had been excluded. (Wilson Center, 09.13.18)
  • NEW On whether or not China is the principal security threat to the U.S.: There are two levels of answering this. One, I would not want a situation to exist in 2025 where China is militarily stronger than the United States. And I would always favor a military policy that keeps us strong enough to deal with foreseeable dangers. And therefore, as China or Russia […] grow, I would attempt to make sure that we will never get into that position. But simultaneously, I believe that it is essential that China and the United States, while looking for their security, are engaged in a dialogue in which they will seek to avoid threatening each other's interests, in which they will seek to develop some cooperative projects that bring the people closer together. (Wilson Center, 09.13.18)


  • NEW On inclusion in NATO: For Russia, historically, Ukraine has been part of their territory at least for 400 years. On the other hand, it is tied up in many respects to Europe. So I personally, which is a minority view, I have thought it was unwise to try to include Ukraine in NATO, but it's also impossible to let it exist as a satellite … of Russia. (Senate Armed Services Committee, 01.25.18)
  • Any attempt by one wing of Ukraine to dominate the other—as has been the pattern—would lead eventually to civil war or breakup. To treat Ukraine as part of an East-West confrontation would scuttle for decades any prospect to bring Russia and the West—especially Russia and Europe—into a cooperative international system. (The Washington Post, 03.05.14)
  • The politics of post-independence Ukraine clearly demonstrate that the root of the problem lies in efforts by Ukrainian politicians to impose their will on recalcitrant parts of the country, first by one faction, then by the other. … A wise U.S. policy toward Ukraine would seek a way for the two parts of the country to cooperate with each other. We should seek reconciliation, not the domination of a faction. (The Washington Post, 03.05.14)
  • Ukraine needs to be embedded in the structure of European and international security architecture in such a way that it serves as a bridge between Russia and the West, rather than as an outpost of either side. (Speech in Moscow, 02.04.16)
  • I favor an independent Ukraine that is militarily non-aligned. If you remove the two Donbas regions from eastern Ukraine, you guarantee that Ukraine is permanently hostile to Russia, since it becomes dominated by its Western part, which only joined Russia in the 1940s. The solution, then, is to find a way to give these units a degree of autonomy that gives them a voice in military entanglements, but otherwise keeps them under the governance of Ukraine. (The Atlantic, 11.10.16)
  • Ukraine should be conceived of as a bridge between NATO and Russia rather than an outpost of either side. Russia can contribute to this by forgoing its aspiration to make Ukraine a satellite; the United States and Europe must relinquish their quest to turn Ukraine into an extension of the Western security system. The result would be a Ukraine whose role in the international system resembles that of Austria or Finland, free to conduct its own economic and political relationships, including with both Europe and Russia, but not party to any military or security alliance. (The Atlantic, 11.10.16)
  • Far too often the Ukrainian issue is posed as a showdown: whether Ukraine joins the East or the West. But if Ukraine is to survive and thrive, it must not be either side’s outpost against the other—Russia must accept that to try to force Ukraine into a satellite status, and thereby move Russia’s borders again, would doom Moscow to repeat its history of self-fulfilling cycles of reciprocal pressures with Europe and the United States. The West must understand that, to Russia, Ukraine can never be just a foreign country. (The Washington Post, 03.05.14)
  • In considering the Ukraine issue, in my view we should begin with a definition of the objective we are trying to reach, and then see which measures are the most suitable. I am uneasy about beginning a process of military engagement without knowing where it will lead us and what we are willing to do to sustain it in order to avoid the experience that I mentioned before. Ukraine should be an independent state, free to develop its own relationships. With perhaps a special aspect in respect to NATO membership it should be maintained within existing borders and Russian troops should be withdrawn as part of a settlement. But I believe we should avoid taking incremental steps before we know how far we are willing to go. This is a territory 300 miles from Moscow, and therefore, it has special security implications. That does not change my view of the outcome, which must be a free Ukraine. It may include military measures as part of it, but I am uneasy when one speaks of military measures alone without having the strategy fully put forward. (Testimony at Senate Armed Services Committee via C-SPAN, 01.30.15)
  • Ukraine has in effect become symbolic of the crisis but also of the way to overcome it. We must be determined to defeat any further attempt at a military solution. But we need also to operate from an appropriate definition of security that relates strategy to diplomacy. To fix NATO’s security border on the eastern side of Ukraine places it 300 miles from Moscow—to the Kremlin, a dramatic upheaval of the border’s Cold War position along the Elbe River 1,000 miles west. At the same time, a Russian security border along the western side of Ukraine fixes it along the perimeters of Poland, Slovakia and Hungary, countries whose not-so-distant memories of Russian occupation will not abide such placement. (The Atlantic, 11.10.16)
  • Here is my notion of an outcome compatible with the values and security interests of all sides: 1. Ukraine should have the right to choose freely its economic and political associations, including with Europe; 2. Ukraine should not join NATO …; 3. Ukraine should be free to create any government compatible with the expressed will of its people. Wise Ukrainian leaders would then opt for a policy of reconciliation between the various parts of their country. Internationally, they should pursue a posture comparable to that of Finland. That nation leaves no doubt about its fierce independence and cooperates with the West in most fields but carefully avoids institutional hostility toward Russia; 4. It is incompatible with the rules of the existing world order for Russia to annex Crimea. But it should be possible to put Crimea’s relationship to Ukraine on a less fraught basis. To that end, Russia would recognize Ukraine’s sovereignty over Crimea. Ukraine should reinforce Crimea’s autonomy in elections held in the presence of international observers. (The Washington Post, 03.05.14)
  • A number of things need to be recognized. One, the relationship between Ukraine and Russia will always have a special character in the Russian mind. It can never be limited to a relationship of two traditional sovereign states, not from the Russian point of view, maybe not even from Ukraine’s. (The National Interest, 08.19.15)
  • One has to analyze how the Ukraine crisis occurred. It is not conceivable that Putin spends 60 billion euros on turning a summer resort into a winter Olympic village in order to start a military crisis the week after a concluding ceremony that depicted Russia as a part of Western civilization… I saw Putin at the end of November 2013. He raised a lot of issues; Ukraine he listed at the end as an economic problem that Russia would handle via tariffs and oil prices. The first mistake was the inadvertent conduct of the European Union. They did not understand the implications of some of their own conditions. Ukrainian domestic politics made it look impossible for Yanukovych to accept the EU terms and be reelected or for Russia to view them as purely economic. So the Ukrainian president rejected the EU terms. The Europeans panicked, and Putin became overconfident. He perceived the deadlock as a great opportunity to implement immediately what had heretofore been his long-range goal. He offered $15 billion to draw Ukraine into his Eurasian Union. In all of this, America was passive. (The National Interest, 08.19.15)
  • There was no significant political discussion with Russia or the EU of what was in the making. Each side acted sort of rationally based on its misconception of the other, while Ukraine slid into the Maidan uprising right in the middle of what Putin had spent 10 years building as a recognition of Russia’s status. No doubt in Moscow this looked as if the West was exploiting what had been conceived as a Russian festival to move Ukraine out of the Russian orbit. Then Putin started acting like a Russian czar—like Nicholas I over a century ago. I am not excusing the tactics, only setting them in context. (The National Interest, 08.19.15)
  • The European Union must recognize that its bureaucratic dilatoriness and subordination of the strategic element to domestic politics in negotiating Ukraine’s relationship to Europe contributed to turning a negotiation into a crisis. Foreign policy is the art of establishing priorities. The Ukrainians are the decisive element. (The Washington Post, 03.05.14)
  • The issue is not to extricate the United States from the Ukrainian impasse but to solve it in a way conducive to international order. (The National Interest, 08.19.15)
  • An American contribution to Ukrainian diplomacy is essential to put the issue into a global context. (The National Interest, 08.19.15)
  • The West hesitates to take on the economic recovery of Greece; it’s surely not going to take on Ukraine as a unilateral project. So one should at least examine the possibility of some cooperation between the West and Russia in a militarily nonaligned Ukraine. (The National Interest, 08.19.15)
  • The Ukraine crisis is turning into a tragedy because it is confusing the long-range interests of global order with the immediate need of restoring Ukrainian identity. … When you read now that Muslim units are fighting on behalf of Ukraine, then the sense of proportion has been lost. (The National Interest, 08.19.15)

Russia’s other post-Soviet neighbors:

  • To be updated.

IV. Miscellaneous

  • To be updated.

RM Staff

These quotations have been compiled by Russia Matters Project director Simon Saradzhyan, former student associate Sarah Vansickle and editor Natasha Yefimova-Trilling.

Photo credit: Wikicommons photo by Marsha Miller shared under public domain.