Kissinger’s “prophecy” about Ukraine

Of Gianluca Mercuri

Eight years ago, former US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger wrote an article defining three points to “end the crisis in Ukraine”. They concerned entry into the EU, into NATO and its finlandisation. Read now, those lines seem to some the umpteenth prophecy of an oracle of international relations, and to others the certification of his errors.

Kissinger, eternally Kissinger, inevitably Kissinger. At nearly 99 years old, the former US secretary of state is still something of an oracle of international relations, a man whose unrivaled (and controversial) mix of thought and action is an unavoidable point of reference, even when one aims to overcome it or demolish it. So omnipresent, the man who in one way or another has seen himself consulted by all the tenants of the White House from Kennedy onwards, that even when he does not speak it is as if he did, because there is always his pronouncement, one of his acts, one of his writings which suddenly becomes current again, and gives the idea of ​​adapting perfectly to the latest crisis.

The latest example is his article in the Washington Post Of 8 years ago – March 5, 2014 – which in these days has returned insistently on the Net as a sort of prophecywith the corollary deduced by many that, if the world had listened to the master ofrealistic approach to foreign policy issues, the Ukrainian tragedy would have been avoided.

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The piece was entitled “To settle the Ukraine crisis, start at the end” (“To solve the Ukrainian crisis, start from the end”) and commented on the effects of the Euromaidanwhich exploded between ’13 and ’14 after President Yanukovyc had refused to sign the association agreement with the EU to sign one with Russia, and ended up being forced to flee by popular reaction.

What did Kissinger say? In summary:
• Yes to a Ukraine associated with Europe
• No to a Ukraine in NATO
• ‘Finnishized’ Ukraine.

All issues, as we can see, extremely current and recurring in every analysis of these terrible days.

Finlandization, in particular, was explained as follows: “Wise Ukrainian leaders should opt for a policy of reconciliation between the various parts of their country. Internationally, they should pursue a position comparable to that of Finland. That nation leaves no doubt about its proud independence and cooperates with the West in most fields, but carefully avoids institutional hostility towards Russia“.

Of course, the analysis was much more complex. In particular, he tended to stress errors and contradictions of the Western camp. It was argued that Ukraine «must not be the outpost of one of the two sides against the other, but function as a bridge between them”. That Russia “must understand that trying to force Ukraine into satellite status would condemn Moscow to repeat its cyclical history of mutual pressure with Europe and the United States.” That “the West must understand that, for Russia, Ukraine can never be just a foreign country”, with relative quotes on the historical and religious roots of Russia well planted in Ukraine that we hear frequently. That Ukraine has “a complex history and a polyglot composition”, summarized schematically as follows: «The west is largely Catholic; the largely Russian Orthodox east. The west speaks Ukrainian; the east speaks mostly Russian ».

Then there were two other key statements: “Russia would not be able to impose a military solution without isolating itself”; And “for the West, Vladimir Putin’s demonization is not a policy; it is an alibi for the absence of a policy ».

Resumed and often quoted, Kissinger’s “prophetic” article had above all positive comments, which underlined its lucidity, balance and foresight. Above all that of an esteemed political scientist like Piero Ignazithat on Tomorrow wrote that the great American diplomat was right when he argued that “dragging Ukraine into a confrontation between East and West would have prevented Russia from being brought into a cooperative international system for decades.” Other remarks by Ignazi are also interesting: «Could Putin have been stopped first and Ukraine saved? Perhaps yes, but Western political-moral arrogance has prevented intelligent steps in this direction ». And again: «The superiority complex that we Westerners often express is annoying, and even unbearable, to other countries ».

It is curious, and even amusing, to note that Kissinger – the icon of US imperialism against which the world lefts have marched for years in every corner of the planet – it has been so enlisted in the camp of critics of the West. A forcing? Up to a certain point, because Kissinger’s arguments are in fact similar to those of a certain left pacifism much criticized (for example by Paolo Mieli) for its alleged underlying pro-Putinism (and speaking of alibis and Putin, Mieli denies to the Russian leader that of the alleged aggressive NATO policy towards Russia).

The enthusiasm for Kissingerian prophecy, however, is not unanimous. Who really does not share it is Mario Del Pero, historian at SciencesPo, who demolishes the myth of Kissinger point by point: he does not reach the levels of Christopher Hitchens, who in a memorable book he described him as “a splendid liar with an extraordinary memory”, and above all as a war criminal; but certainly he is far from the apology that Niall Ferguson made of it in his biography in two volumesin which he disputes the common opinion on his ruthlessness.

On the website of the BraidsDel Pero therefore disassembles “The alleged Kissingerian prophecy”. Those comments from 2014, he says, “express in a plastic form, one would like to say quintessential, his style, his method and his approach. And obviously its limits, analytical and prescriptive. The lexicon used, full of aphorisms, is that – apparently wise and precise and in fact often delphic and vague – which is found in many Kissingerian writings: “the test of politics is how it ends, not how it begins”; “Foreign policy is the art of setting priorities” », and others. “To these truths – sometimes banal, not infrequently oracular – is added the use of a story that would set stakes, or rather essences, unavoidable for all those involved”. Because “an essentialist vision like Kissinger’s one struggles to deal with historical processes that define the creation, construction, adaptation and constant rethinking of a nation and its identity foundations”.

In the case of Ukraine, “it seems to take almost for granted that the Russian-speaking population is inevitably, and perpetually, pro-Russian (and therefore pro-Russian). Numerous experts, on the other hand, clearly explain how much a specific Ukrainian identity has been redefined (and strengthened) in the years following the 2014-15 crisis (Editor’s note: Luca Angelini wrote about it in the Wednesday Review). And it is really hard to imagine that resistance to the Russian invasion and this terrible war are not meant to give a very strong contribution to the constant redefinition of the Ukrainian national identity“.

Del Pero, in line with Mieli, disputes above all one point: “It was NATO, in 2014, that was identified by Kissinger as the main cause of the crisis that then opened up”. In the end he seems to admit in some way that the core of his proposals at the time are resistant to time: “They remain on the table neutrality – in the form of an acknowledgment that Ukraine will never be part of NATO – and the link with Europe, which now even includes the accession of Kiev to the EU ». But then he specifies that these are “two elements that seem to offer very fragile and future-proof negotiating bases in the context of the current war”, in which “the growing costs of the conflict raise the threshold for both sides to accept a compromise”.

And yet, how much Kissingerian ideas are still current – which does not mean that they are the only viable solutions, but that perhaps they weren’t “born weak and on problematic premises already eight years ago” – he confirmed on Courier service
Franco Venturini: “Why not pursue a negotiation agreement that provides for Ukraine’s accelerated entry into the European Union, its neutrality (therefore no NATO), and a series of guarantees for all parties involved?”.

The Europeans seem “hesitant”, but “would they really oppose an agreement that could lead to the longed-for peace? And couldn’t Ukraine finally stop being a buffer state and strengthen its ties with the West, with the EU and without the missiles that alarm the Russians? ».

Naturally, alongside that of Ukraine’s international position remains the crux of its borders and the fate of the Donbass. Meanwhile, like it or not, old Kissinger is always there, making noses curl but always making himself heard.

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