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Henry Kissinger Is Wrong: Ukraine Should Get Russian Territory

M777 Artillery
Soldiers serving with Alpha Battery, 2nd Battalion, 77th Field Artillery Regiment, 4th Infantry Brigade Combat Team, 4th Inf. Division, shoot a round down range from their M777A2 howitzer on Kandahar Airfield, Afghanistan, Aug. 22, 2014. The round was part of a shoot to register, or zero, the howitzers, which had just arrived on KAF from Forward Operating Base Pasab. The shoot also provided training for a fire support team from 1st Battalion, 12th Infantry Regiment, 4th IBCT, 4th Inf. Div.

Henry Kissinger is wrong on Ukraine: Fortitude and the West have become, in the name of sophisticated diplomacy, mutually exclusive. Henry Kissinger works overtime to shape his legacy as a master diplomat and, at first glance, compared to those like John Kerry and Anthony Blinken who took the helm of Foggy Bottom decades after him, it is not a hard job. That said, over time, many of Kissinger’s top accomplishments appear shortsighted.

In his most recent insertion into the public debate, the former Secretary of State and National Security Advisor argues, that in the name of realpolitik, Ukraine should accept neutrality and forfeit territory to Russia.

Who Gives the Most for Neutrality?

He has it precisely backward. Neutrality in the face of an increasingly erratic and reactionary Russia is misguided. As Putin guides Russia ever more to the extreme, neutrality between Russia and the West would require Ukraine to march halfway to the extreme. That’s halfway too far. 

Henry Kissinger’s guidance also smacks of appeasement. If the West rewards Putin for aggression and war crimes, then what disincentive does Putin – or the Kremlin – have to discontinue further wars of aggression against post-Soviet neighbors? After all, Ukraine is not the exception but the rule. Putin attacked the country in 2013, and also attacked Georgia in 2008. Is quieting the aggression now worth a future Russian attack on Moldova, northern Kazakhstan, or the Baltic states as Putin tries to distract the Russian public from decades of economic mismanagement compounded by the subsidies he must pay to the puppet states he creates in the wake of his aggressions?

The narrative that the West humiliated Russia or betrayed its word to Moscow after the fall of the Cold War is false. Garry Kasparov, the former chess grandmaster-turned-oppositionist demolished such accusations in his 2015 book Winter is Coming.

The only effective response to Putin, should he want peace, is to forfeit Russian territory to Ukraine as part of the reparations he should pay. This means the return not only of Crimea and the regions of Donetsk and Luhansk which Russian forces occupy but towns and cities around the Black Sea and Sea of Azov coast, which is currently part of Russia proper, as well as the ships of the Russian Black Sea Fleet. If Russia is so intent on populating its interior with civilians transferred from Ukrainian cities, perhaps it could instead relocate its own nationals from these towns before the transfer to Ukraine.

Italy, meanwhile, has suggested sketching out a similar peace deal that would see the independence of Crimea and Donbas, legally Ukrainian territory, albeit respectively occupied and under assault by Russia.

Perhaps this concept should be tested with the independence of Sicily and Sardinia? If that works, then Italy would have moral skin in the game to make such proposals. 

The reality is that the West should not blame or punish Ukraine for decades of feckless, Western diplomacy geared more toward denying the looming problem or appeasing it. For all Western powers argue that the crushing reparations load on Germany post-World War II paved the way for World War II. However, they ignore two facts:

First, Putin sees the fall of the Soviet Union as the equivalent of foreign supervision of Saar and Danzig. So far as Putin is concerned, the way to obviate that comparison is to return Russian control to the borders of the entire Soviet Union. Second, the West continued to accept Germany’s reparations from World War I until 2010.

The reality is this: Until Russia pays a real price for its actions, Putin or those who follow him will simply regroup, rearm, and further Russia’s aggression. It is time to make this conflict the beginning of the end rather than the end of the beginning.

Now a 1945 Contributing Editor, Dr. Michael Rubin is a Senior Fellow at the American Enterprise Institute (AEI). Dr. Rubin is the author, coauthor, and coeditor of several books exploring diplomacy, Iranian history, Arab culture, Kurdish studies, and Shi’ite politics, including “Seven Pillars: What Really Causes Instability in the Middle East?” (AEI Press, 2019); “Kurdistan Rising” (AEI Press, 2016); “Dancing with the Devil: The Perils of Engaging Rogue Regimes” (Encounter Books, 2014); and “Eternal Iran: Continuity and Chaos” (Palgrave, 2005).

Written By

Now a 1945 Contributing Editor, Dr. Michael Rubin is a Senior Fellow at the American Enterprise Institute (AEI). Dr. Rubin is the author, coauthor, and coeditor of several books exploring diplomacy, Iranian history, Arab culture, Kurdish studies, and Shi’ite politics, including “Seven Pillars: What Really Causes Instability in the Middle East?” (AEI Press, 2019); “Kurdistan Rising” (AEI Press, 2016); “Dancing with the Devil: The Perils of Engaging Rogue Regimes” (Encounter Books, 2014); and “Eternal Iran: Continuity and Chaos” (Palgrave, 2005).

20 Comments

20 Comments

  1. Fin

    May 24, 2022 at 12:36 pm

    This is a very odd opinion. Clearly you havent considered what would be the likely outcome of a defeat of Russia in what is their scrap with Ukraine that has been brewing for years.
    We (west/NATO/US) have started (and generally not finished) many, many wars since the ones mentioned above. Iraq (twice) Afghanistan, interferance in Syria, Lybia, Yemen, Somalia (sorta Ukraine too, for that matter!)
    We havent ‘paid a price’ yet for any of these. Except dead servicemen and women – and of course these countries populations. The locals always pay.

    Real Politic means the best outcome for them.

    We have given Ukraine now 1/3 of the worlds supply of NLAW/Javelin & Stingers. We have promised over 50Billion in aid (more than Russia’s annual military budget). A country which was(is) one of the most corrupt countries in the world (120th out of 180 measured – Russia is actually better!). You can buy a stinger on Telegram right now – Ukraine always was the terrorists bazzar. Are we really making the world safer?

    • TotallyNotBiased

      May 24, 2022 at 6:54 pm

      Boris, you can have your 15 rubles. I’ll send you another 15 if you can send me the link on Telegram for that stinger you are talking about. But I guess that would be too tall of a task for lying russian piece of shit that you are 🙂

      • Jack Elam

        May 24, 2022 at 10:47 pm

        Isn’t this tired old rubles-and-Putin-puppet joke getting a little stale by now? (Very 2017?) I guess it’s the mindless go-to for people who can’t come up with an intelligent argument?

        Maybe TotallyNotBiased should stop watching MSNBC or reading pieces from the AEI (like this one) and look at the facts and the maps, and remember the last eight years of history. Fin is absolutely correct.

        I would correct Fin, however, and say that we haven’t “not finished” our past wars; we’ve LOST (okay, with Korea it was an armistice). The last significant war that we won was WWII. Leaving aside the nuclear option, is our military really ready to face the artillery systems of a major power–to be at the receiving end of the Kalibr, Kinzhal and Iskander?

        And the cost isn’t just lost lives of our troops; anyone who pays attention to geopolitics and world news understands that great parts of the globe hate us for speaking of democracy while inflicting death and destruction in its name. Look at a world map of how the global south, India, China, Africa are NOT “with us” in this “fight for democracy. Most of the world, in other words.

        I guess I’ll be called a Putin puppet now. Maybe Kissinger is a Putin puppet! I never thought I’d say it, but in this case he’s absolutely right. The Ukrainian army is being tragically ground down in the east, and you tell me how this conflict can continue without NATO getting involved. Ukraine is losing, you know it, and that 40 (really 54) billion isn’t going to win it.

        I did get a good laugh at Rubin’s statement that Russia should concede land to Ukraine. Not gonna happen, expert analyst. I wonder if he’s studied history at all.

    • Daniel

      May 25, 2022 at 7:48 am

      So Michael Rubin wants to keep fighting to make Russia pay. In that case put on the boots and travel to Ukraie and fight. Or are you expecting somebody to fight and die for you? Or send your children, if they die it will be for the good reasons you explained.

  2. Josh

    May 24, 2022 at 2:22 pm

    When has Henry Kissinger been right? The only reason he’s giving speeches and talking his typical nonsense is because no one is paying attention to him. He’s just like North Korea; stirring the pot when he wants attention.

    • Jack Elam

      May 24, 2022 at 10:56 pm

      Josh should read a little more history (he must be too young to know it). Kissinger was right in Nixon’s China policy, the one right thing he did. Not so much with Chile, Indonesia, Vietnam, Cambodia…

      I loathe Kissinger with every cell in my body, but I think he wants to calm a pot that’s already been stirred and is spilling over crazily. If he wanted to “stir the pot” and get attention, he would say we should nuke Russia or invade (Kissinger knows his history though). Josh there’s a foreign policy school of thought called “Realism” (google it) and Kissinger is being consistent with it. Another Realist is John Mearsheimer. Also against the war.

  3. Mynamehear

    May 24, 2022 at 6:54 pm

    Losing territory has always worked as punishment for illegitimate wars.

    • Daniel

      May 25, 2022 at 10:49 am

      What states do you suggest US should lose for all the illegal wars, Iraq, Libia, Panama (to mention 3 in my lifetime but not the only ones)?

  4. aldol11

    May 24, 2022 at 7:00 pm

    academician and detente purveyor, enough said

  5. Terry

    May 24, 2022 at 7:08 pm

    Fin-
    Yeah… no. This index has Russia at 29, Ukraine at 32. The smaller the number, the more corrupt. Nice whataboutism however, seems appropriate since it IS a Russian go-to tactic.

  6. Jacksonian Libertarian

    May 24, 2022 at 7:09 pm

    Authoritarians see appeasement as weakness.

    “once you have paid him the Danegeld/ You never get rid of the Dane.”

  7. Illurion

    May 24, 2022 at 8:14 pm

    Kissinger has always been a fool.

    Yes, the Author is right, Ukraine should get back what was taken from it, plus all of the Russian areas touching the Black sea.

    My opinion hasn’t changed. Russia has, and will lose this war, and will eventually cease to exist as it is absorbed by China.

    • Jack Elam

      May 25, 2022 at 6:59 pm

      I thought I’d check out an article written by a neo-con freak, but I didn’t expect to read such ignorance in the comments. Then again, neo-cons, as ideologues with roots in Trotskyism (ie, permanent revolution/permanent war), are notorious for having no historical sense or long-term vision. They succeed on the ignorance of others, though of course their visions have failed time and again.

      You tell me, Illurion, how Ukraine will win this war. Seriously, please explain. The neo-Nazi Azovs have surrendered in Mariupol, the Ukrainian military may receive some bit of the non-laundered 54 billion but those weapons systems need fuel–and Russia has taken out a lot of fuel depots. The Ukrainians are being ground down in Donbas. Ukrainian middle-aged men are at the frontlines now. Cannon fodder. Russia is destroying many of the weapons and tanks that do come in, and it continues to successfully deploy its classic doctrine of maskirovka (see: Kiev early on, that line of tanks). And this isn’t even drawing on Russia’s main reserves of soldiers. Yes, new Ukie soldiers may get our gifts from Raytheon and Lockheed, but it takes time to train those soldiers on them. And it’s Russia that has time on its side, not us.

      Oh, and why aren’t Ukrainian civilians rising up in the streets en masse to resist Russia, as you saw in 1968 Czechoslovakia? Where are they? Maybe it’s because they know that Zelensky is a corrupt clown who’s done nothing for his people.

      But keep dreaming! We will fight Russia to the last Ukrainian and all that, and Russia will fall, and we’ll do what the best armies of France (1812) and Germany (1941) couldn’t do. Because we are America!

  8. Goran

    May 24, 2022 at 11:04 pm

    This is not about territory, Russia has plenty of land, mostly unused and giving it more plays no role. This at its roots has delusions of the complex-ridden dwarf denying Ukrainian identity. Addressing that problem by asking Ukrainians to focus at the dot on the wall while their society is being hacked to pieces makes sense only if you agree with the idea that Ukrainians don’t deserve better.

    • Jack Elam

      May 25, 2022 at 7:13 pm

      Ukrainian will be a rump state and probably a landlocked one when all this is over. The hilarious thing is Poland: there are deep historical hatreds between Ukrainians and the Poles, and I wouldn’t be surprised if the Poles, for all their current sympathy, grab Lviv when all is said and done. They lost Lviv to Stalin, and many want it back. Maybe vengeance too for WWII when the fascist Ukrainian Insurgent Army massacred between 50,000 to 100,000 of them, including Jews, in eastern Galicia.

      • Goran

        May 25, 2022 at 10:48 pm

        “Ukrainian will be a rump state and probably a landlocked one when all this is over.”

        That is possible, not likely but possible. In the meantime, they should be assisted for as long as they are willing to fight back.

  9. Don

    May 25, 2022 at 9:26 am

    Holding Russia land will be nothing but trouble, and there really aren’t any strategic places to hold. Ukraine should reclaim its territory and Russia should be forced to pay reparations out of future oil/gas sales. In order to force that outcome though, Ukraine needs to finish kicking out Russia, which means broad attacks on Russian infrastructure within 200km of Ukraine to prevent the supply of weapons. Time to lend/lease some cruise missiles.

  10. Dwight

    May 25, 2022 at 4:43 pm

    It’s amusing that Kissinger is (mildly) chastised, while the author still gets in an obligatory dig at Blinken.

    If only Kissinger showed the same spine with respect to Putin as Blinken!

    I guess it comes with the territory of being from AEI. If you can’t defend your own, at least ‘both-sides’ it a bit.

  11. David

    May 30, 2022 at 2:08 am

    This site is an exercise in intellectuel poverty.

  12. European observer

    June 13, 2022 at 7:35 pm

    Putin launched this aggression in the first place because he counted on the legions of fifth columnists / appeasers, including apparently those from the “realist” brigade (call me Henry) to sabotage the western response with their defeatist or straight up treasonous BS.

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