The West better heed Kissinger’s wise counsel

Henry Kissinger attends the annual meeting of the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos. Picture: REUTERS/Pascal Lauener

Henry Kissinger attends the annual meeting of the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos. Picture: REUTERS/Pascal Lauener

Published Jan 3, 2023


Johannesburg - This was a week of glaring global contradictions, shining the light once more on conflicting geopolitical persuasions between the West and the East, particularly Russia.

As Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky was being fêted in Washington DC in a rare foreign state visit, his Russian counterpart President Vladimir Putin was again expressly hinting at his desire to see the devastating war cease.

It was Zelensky's first foreign visit since the Ukraine war started on February 24. Unsurprisingly, his destination was the US, Kyiv’s biggest bankroller to the tune of astronomical figures and the supply of a lethal arsenal of weapons against Russia.

President Biden single-handedly – on behalf of the American people – holds the keys to the cessation of hostilities or continuation of the war. It is entirely upon his will.

But what makes this week’s developments in global affairs significant, particularly the Ukraine war, was a call by none other than veteran and renowned US diplomat Henry Kissinger for the war to end.

Kissinger – of the famed Cold War policy of “détente” towards the Soviet Union – became a household name in geopolitics during his stints as Secretary of State under presidents Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford.

At 99, Kissinger still shows an incredible knack for global affairs, occasionally emerging out of oblivion to contribute his esteemed thoughts to contemporary discourse.

This week Kissinger triggered a string of headlines with his remarks that “time is approaching for a negotiated peace in Ukraine”. Such a negotiated truce, Kissinger opined, “would reduce the risk of another devastating world war”.

To his credit, Kissinger was central to strenuous engagements between Russia and the West at the height of the Cold War, during which the threat to use nukes was a constant threat.

Almost single-handedly, Kissinger is credited with suave diplomatic skills that steered the world away from a possibly dangerous confrontation that could have made World War II (from 1939-1945) look like a Sunday picnic.

Internationally, Kissinger’s thoughts and standpoints are respected and often embraced as wise counsel.

His latest remarks about the need for a negotiated settlement in the Ukraine conflict were shared in the same week that President Zelensky was treated to expected pomp and ceremony in a country where the media often describe him as a “war hero”.

President Zelensky’s glorification in the Western media, coupled with the bottomless pit of financial support, supply of lethal weapons in abundance and the support through micro-phone diplomacy and economic sanctions against Russia all serve to reduce chances for an armistice.

At face value, how could Ukraine opt to negotiate with Russia when Kyiv’s wealthy backers instruct otherwise? The truth is, he who pays the piper, calls the tune.

Ukrainian cities are being decimated by constant Russian shelling in a war that is in effect against the US, Nato and the West. In Washington, it is openly admitted that the US is involved in a proxy war against Russia, a claim Moscow reiterated this week.

The difference in the US involvement in the Ukraine war is that none of its service men and women is physically on the frontline – as has been the case in places such as Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria and elsewhere.

There are no visuals of US service men and women returning home in body bags, and therefore this makes it easier for the Biden administration to “sell” the war domestically.

As President Putin was this week indicating Moscow’s willingness to engage in peace talks, the Ukrainians – buoyed by their unwavering material support to stay on the battlefield against Russia – were spitting fire at the Kremlin.

Kyiv was also explicitly critical of Kissinger’s standpoint, accusing the highly acclaimed veteran diplomat of “appeasing the aggressor”.

Writing in the “Spectator” magazine, Kissinger opined: “The time is approaching to build on the strategic changes which have already been accomplished and to integrate them into a new structure towards achieving peace through negotiation.”

Kissinger continued: “A peace process should link Ukraine to Nato, however, expressed. The alternative of neutrality is no longer meaningful.”

Well, Kissinger knows – or should know, and very well too, that at the heart of what caused the Ukraine war has been Russia’s publicly expressed concerns about the country’s national security.

The aggressive expansion of Nato eastwards, up to the very borders with Russia, had been a vexatious issue for decades since the end of the Cold War at the turn of the 90s.

Moscow had argued that the West had vowed never to expand Nato towards the East. The undertaking was given to the last premier of the Soviet Union, Mikhail Gorbachev.

However, in a show of force, the West had repeatedly laughed off Moscow’s expressed concerns as unfounded. The antagonism between the wrangling sides continued over an extended period, widening the schism to a point beyond repair.

This week, the Ukrainian presidential aide, Mykhailo Podolyak, entered the fray. Writing on Telegram, he said: “Mr Kissinger still has not understood anything ... neither the nature of this war nor its impact on the world order.”

He continued: “The prescription that the ex-secretary of state calls for, but is afraid to say out loud, is simple: appease the aggressor by sacrificing parts of Ukraine with guarantees of non-aggression against the other states of Eastern Europe.”

Podolyak left the harshest remark for last, saying: “All supporters of simple solutions should remember the obvious: any agreement with the devil – a bad peace at the expense of Ukrainian territories – will be a victory for Putin and a recipe for success for autocrats around the world.”

Of course, there is a complex context to the Ukraine war. The year 2014 will go down in history as the most remarkable marker of a departure from cordial co-existence between Russia and Ukraine.

When the West supported a coup to topple a pro-Russian Ukrainian president, Viktor Yanukovych, that marked the beginning of chaos.

The eastern region of Ukraine – largely Russian-speaking – rebelled against the coup and demanded to break away and become autonomous.

After a fierce confrontation and the deaths of hundreds of people, the Minsk Agreement was signed with the support of France and Germany.

Recently, former German chancellor Angela Merkel revealed in a rare interview since she left public office after 19 years at the helm that the Minsk Agreements were devised as a ploy to buy time for Ukraine to bolster its military.

One of the consequences of the 2014 Western-backed coup was the break-away of Crimea from Ukraine through a referendum that resulted in the territory joining Russia.

The West condemned the move as Russia’s “annexation of Crimea”. In the ongoing war, four Ukrainian territories have emulated Crimea by holding similar referenda and opted to “join” Russia.

The West and Kyiv reject the move, and the future of the territories in question will form a critical part of any negotiation to end the war.

The West and Ukraine have lambasted Russia for what they say is an “imperialist-style war of occupation”. They want Russia to relinquish any claim over the territories in question, including Crimea.

However, Moscow claims to have not influenced the outcome of the referenda. The outcomes simply show “the will of the people”, The Kremlin argues.

Veteran Russian Foreign Minister, Sergey Lavrov, said the West’s primary objective is to defeat Russia and break the federation into various portions of smaller states with no international influence.

This week Kissinger warned that the West’s desire to render the Russian Federation “impotent” – “or even to seek the dissolution of Russia” – was a dangerous game that could result in major chaos never seen before.

It is a frank warning by a man who has lived through sensitive times in history and still managed to choose peace over war – successfully.