In the Thick of ItA blog on the U.S.-Russia relationship
Kissinger’s Post-War Vision Puts Ukraine in NATO but Also Has an ‘Opening to Russia’
Speaking at the World Economic Forum via Zoom on Jan. 17, Henry Kissinger said the U.S. should continue and, if necessary, even intensify its military support for Ukraine “until the ceasefire lines are reached or accepted.” The 99-year-old American statesman believes “an end of fighting” can occur “when the pre-war line is reached,” implying a status quo ante, in which Russia abandons all its land grabs since re-invading Ukraine, but not Crimea or parts of the Donbas controlled by separatists prior to the launch of the invasion on Feb. 24, 2022.
In this 30-minute conversation with his former student, Harvard Professor Graham Allison, Kissinger also said that Western sanctions would have to remain in place for the entirety of peace negotiations that should follow the ceasefire. Kissinger—who called for peace talks “within two months” at the previous WEF, held in May 2022—also said he has abandoned his pre-war belief that Ukraine should be kept out of NATO. (He first signaled his position on Ukraine’s affiliation with NATO was shifting in July, when he told an interviewer that he sees post-war Ukraine “closely connected to NATO, if not part of it .”)
While advocating for Ukraine’s inclusion in NATO on the second day of WEF-2023, the patriarch of Realpolitik adepts in the U.S. foreign policy establishment prioritized “preventing the war from escalating” and from “becoming a war against Russia.” “Destruction of Russia as a state ... will open up the vast area of its 11 time zones to internal conflict and to outside intervention at the time when there are 15,000 and more nuclear weapons on its territory,” he warned. Kissinger—who wrote a commentary on “How to avoid another world war” last month—also called for eventually giving “Russia an opportunity to re-join an international system” and for “opening to Russia,” but only if Russia “meets the required conditions” of peace.
Having dwelled on the Russian-Ukrainian war in the first half of the talk, Kissinger was then asked by Allison to comment on U.S.-Chinese relations in general and their standoff over Taiwan particular. In his response, Kissinger said that “China should restrain its military buildup, and the United States should avoid acting as if it was heading for a two-China solution under the guise of one-China principles.” “Each side needs to consider for itself how the threat to human survival of the destructiveness of weapons, coupled with making them almost conscious in their application, can be dealt with,” Kissinger said of the U.S. and China.
See more of Kissinger’s insights on the Russian-Ukrainian war and how it may end in our partial transcript of the Jan. 17 talk below.
“A Conversation with Henry Kissinger: Historical Perspectives on War,” Graham T. Allison and Henry A. Kissinger, World Economic Forum, 01.17.23. A partial transcript by Russia Matters staff.
Graham Allison: With the brutal war raging in Ukraine and the risk of war over Taiwan rising in Asia, we are very fortunate today ... to have with us ... a person uniquely qualified to give us a historical perspective on war. … Last month, you wrote an article in Spectator, recalling European leaders sleepwalking into a conflict none of them would have chosen if they had foreseen the war’s end in 1918. You asked in that article whether the world now finds itself “at a turning point in Ukraine as winter imposes a pause on large-scale military operations there,” and then you say “The time is approaching to build on the strategic changes that have already been accomplished and to integrate them into a new structure towards achieving peace through negotiation.” So, let me ask you to be more specific.
Henry Kissinger: Last year I made some observations here about how to conceive the end of the war in Ukraine. It was not fully understood what the intention was. So let me repeat and expand on some of these principles.
The war in Ukraine began with the invasion of a sovereign country and the principle—that it must not be a method of settling international disputes—was established by NATO and solemnly supported by the United States, and I have strongly supported the efforts to do so.
We are now at a point when many of the objectives have already been achieved. It has been demonstrated that a conventional attack from Russia on Europe will find united resistance and that Russia probably does not have the capacity to overcome it by conventional means.
So, secondly NATO has been expanded by the adherence of Finland and Sweden. So, the strategic objective has importantly been achieved. But the outcome of the war will involve also where various lines should be drawn in the process of preventing the war from escalating and causing damage beyond … existing levels. And so, I proposed last year and I think again that a ceasefire along the lines of invasion is the reasonable outcome of the military actions but not necessarily the outcome of a later peace negotiation, which would be conducted under ceasefire conditions.
The United States has supported Ukrainian resistance and should continue to support and, if necessary, intensify its military support until the ceasefire line is either reached or accepted in some preliminary discussions.
Another purpose of this is to keep the war from becoming a war against Russia itself, to give Russia an opportunity to re-join an international system. This may seem very hollow to nations that have been under Russian pressure for much of the Cold War period. But the new conditions that I have described may cause Russia to reevaluate its historic position, which was an amalgam of an attraction to the culture of Europe and a fear of domination by Europe, and that to provide a possibility for it to reassess that reliance on military force. This is all the more important because the destruction of Russia as a state that can pursue its own policies will open up the vast area of its 11 time zones to internal conflict and to outside intervention at the time when there are 15,000 and more nuclear weapons on its territory.
So, this is why I believe in dialogue with Russia while the war continues, an end of fighting when the pre-war line is reached and the continuing process of discussion by Europe, America and, at that point, Russia, about the later evolution while the conditions of sanctions and other pressures will be maintained until the final settlement is reached.
I believe this is the way to prevent the war from escalating by raising issues beyond those that existed at the beginning of the war and making them subject to a continuation of military conflict.
I want to express my admiration for the president of Ukraine and for the heroic conduct of the Ukrainian people when I ask them to participate in an effort which should be made by Europe and Ukraine together. Before this war, I was opposed to membership of Ukraine in NATO because I feared that it would start exactly the process that we have seen now. Now that this process has reached its level, the idea of a neutral Ukraine under these conditions is no longer meaningful. And at the end of the process that I described, it ought to be guaranteed by NATO in whatever forms NATO can develop. But I believe Ukrainian membership in NATO would be an appropriate outcome.
So, we now hope that the courage of this period and the heroism of this period will be matched by a vision of a process, which uses this time as a step towards a strengthening of Europe and opening to Russia, if it meets the required conditions to participate as a member in these European processes, and as a fulfillment of the hopes, which have characterized the evolution of Europe since the end of the war, and fulfill the principles of America in bringing about a more peaceful world order.
The opinions expressed herein are solely those of the speakers. Photo by World Economic Forum shared under a Creative Commons license.