Another Kissinger foray into the Russia-Ukraine conflict and the backlash it attracted show that the American-backed NATO armament of Ukraine has convinced many in the West that it has earned them the right to dictate the terms of negotiation between the two.
Kissinger’s latest article in the Spectator reiterates his assertion in “last May,” where he “recommended establishing a ceasefire line along the borders existing where the war started on 24 February. Russia would disgorge its conquests thence, but not the territory it occupied nearly a decade ago, including Crimea. That territory could be the subject of a negotiation after a ceasefire.”
This plan does not automatically grant any concessions to Russia but, at the same time, makes arbitrary distinctions between the borders after its illegal invasion and annexation in 2014, and the invasion and annexation in 2022.
Thus, there are contradictory impulses at play.
On one hand, the West in most of its actions is clearly intent on preventing Russian annexation of outside territory to preserve the principle of preventing aggressive war, and the inviolability of sovereign borders.
On the other though, many like Kissinger are playing realpolitik and clearly do not wish to further weaken a terminally ill Russia, and possibly push the monolithic Putin regime into a corner that could spark a rash response. They are thus reluctant to erode Putin’s ego and his revisionist claims of restoring Russia’s greatness in Crimea.
Further, another response based in the principle national self-determination of the current residents, despite centuries of ethnic cleansing and forced relocation, suggests that even though this crisis was sparked by an aggressive invasion, a referendum in many of occupied Ukraine could be a viable and legitimate solution to determine future borders.
Such disparate aims contradict each other. None of them can be held to their logical conclusions, nor can such principles, if they are principles and not ad hoc rationalizations for pre-existing aims, be divisible or amenable to balancing with any of the others.
National self-determination also means nothing in principle if the way to earn a referendum is through an invasion by a nuclear-powered autocracy, forcible expulsion of locals, and the imprisonment all political dissidents to ensure the desired outcome in a referendum, even if it is internationally supervised.
Neither realpolitik advancing the interests of the United States will be helped by prematurely ending an incredibly convenient proxy war that has effectively isolated and severely weakened one dying hegemon, nor will the balance of power be any more stable by having three vying powers while China still grows.
The world order with its sovereign borders and principles of non-aggression can not hold together if there is a new precedent that nuclear armed one-man dictatorships are given a free pass.
Leaving Putin in power with a trophy means the West simply bides its time before the next abrogation by him or one of the increasing number like him.
Kissinger calls for “reconciliation” with the mortally wounded bear, but at the end of a total war with innumerable crimes perpetrated, for the preservation of any semblance of the international order, the precondition for normalization of relations with Russia must be the end of the Putin regime, and culpability for all responsible parties, not appeasement and inevitable rearmament.
Any other outcome could normalize or even incentivize an anachronistic pre-1940s brand of expansion through war, and would call into question the very purpose of international relations: to promote a peaceful discourse between nation-states and prevent such conflicts from occurring again.