The National Interest's Jacob Heilbrunn recently interviewed Henry Kissinger. The interview contained the following exchange that stood out from the garbage peddled in US media on Ukraine for its clarity.
"Heilbrunn: How do you think the United States can extricate itself from the Ukraine impasse—the United States and Europe, obviously?Kissinger: The issue is not to extricate the United States from the Ukrainian impasse but to solve it in a way conducive to international order. A number of things need to be recognized. One, the relationship between Ukraine and Russia will always have a special character in the Russian mind. It can never be limited to a relationship of two traditional sovereign states, not from the Russian point of view, maybe not even from Ukraine’s. So, what happens in Ukraine cannot be put into a simple formula of applying principles that worked in Western Europe, not that close to Stalingrad and Moscow. In that context, one has to analyze how the Ukraine crisis occurred. It is not conceivable that Putin spends sixty billion euros on turning a summer resort into a winter Olympic village in order to start a military crisis the week after a concluding ceremony that depicted Russia as a part of Western civilization.
So then, one has to ask: How did that happen? I saw Putin at the end of November 2013. He raised a lot of issues; Ukraine he listed at the end as an economic problem that Russia would handle via tariffs and oil prices. The first mistake was the inadvertent conduct of the European Union. They did not understand the implications of some of their own conditions. Ukrainian domestic politics made it look impossible for Yanukovych to accept the EU terms and be reelected or for Russia to view them as purely economic. So the Ukrainian president rejected the EU terms. The Europeans panicked, and Putin became overconfident. He perceived the deadlock as a great opportunity to implement immediately what had heretofore been his long-range goal. He offered fifteen billion dollars to draw Ukraine into his Eurasian Union. In all of this, America was passive [Really? Was it? CP]. There was no significant political discussion with Russia or the EU of what was in the making. Each side acted sort of rationally based on its misconception of the other, while Ukraine slid into the Maidan uprising right in the middle of what Putin had spent ten years building as a recognition of Russia’s status. No doubt in Moscow this looked as if the West was exploiting what had been conceived as a Russian festival to move Ukraine out of the Russian orbit. Then Putin started acting like a Russian czar—like Nicholas I over a century ago. I am not excusing the tactics, only setting them in context.
Kissinger: If we treat Russia seriously as a great power, we need at an early stage to determine whether their concerns can be reconciled with our necessities. We should explore the possibilities of a status of nonmilitary grouping on the territory between Russia and the existing frontiers of NATO.
The West hesitates to take on the economic recovery of Greece; it’s surely not going to take on Ukraine as a unilateral project. So one should at least examine the possibility of some cooperation between the West and Russia in a militarily nonaligned Ukraine. The Ukraine crisis is turning into a tragedy because it is confusing the long-range interests of global order with the immediate need of restoring Ukrainian identity. I favor an independent Ukraine in its existing borders. I have advocated it from the start of the post-Soviet period. When you read now that Muslim units are fighting on behalf of Ukraine, then the sense of proportion has been lost.
Heilbrunn: That’s a disaster, obviously.
Kissinger: To me, yes. It means that breaking Russia has become an objective; the long-range purpose should be to integrate it.
Heilbrunn: But we have witnessed a return, at least in Washington, DC, of neoconservatives and liberal hawks who are determined to break the back of the Russian government.
Kissinger: Until they face the consequences. The trouble with America’s wars since the end of the Second World War has been the failure to relate strategy to what is possible domestically. The five wars we’ve fought since the end of World War II were all started with great enthusiasm. But the hawks did not prevail at the end. At the end, they were in a minority. We should not engage in international conflicts if, at the beginning, we cannot describe an end, and if we’re not willing to sustain the effort needed to achieve that end.
Heilbrunn: But we seem to recapitulate this over and over again.
Kissinger: Because we refuse to learn from experience. Because it’s essentially done by an ahistorical people. In schools now, they don’t teach history anymore as a sequence of events. They deal with it in terms of themes without context.
Heilbrunn: So they’ve stripped it of all context.
Kissinger: Of what used to be context—they put it in an entirely new context."