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).