Henry Kissinger is Trying to Warn Westerners that They Are Running Out of Time in the Fight for Russia
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By Valdai Club Programme Director Timofei Bordachev
If the acute phase of the conflict in Ukraine turns out to be lengthy, which now seems likely, then basic survival will force Russia to cut ties with Western-aligned Europe
In the event that the growing conflict in, and around, Ukraine doesn’t lead to irreparable consequences on a global scale in the near future, its most important outcome will be a fundamental demarcation between Russia and the Western-aligned states of Europe.
This will make it impossible to maintain even minor neutral zones and will require a significant reduction in trade and economic ties. Restoring control over the territory of Ukraine, which, most likely, is to become a long-term goal of Russian foreign policy, will solve the main problem of regional security – the presence of a “gray zone.” The management of which inevitably became the subject of a confrontation and was dangerous from the point of view of escalation.
In this sense, we can count on a certain stabilization in the long term, although it will not be based on cooperation between the main regional powers. However, it is already obvious that the road to peace will be long enough and will be accompanied by extremely dangerous situations.
In his speech to the participants of the Davos forum, Henry Kissinger, the grand patriarch of international politics, pointed to just such a prospect as the least desirable from his point of view, since Russia then “could alienate itself completely from Europe and seek a permanent alliance elsewhere,” which would lead to the emergence of diplomatic divides on the scale of the Cold War.
In his opinion, peace talks between the parties [Moscow and Kiev] would be the most expedient way to prevent this; these would result in Russian interests being taken into account. For Kissinger, this means that in some respect, Russia’s participation in the European “concert” is an unconditional value, and the loss of this must be prevented as long as some chance remains.
However, with all due respect to the merits and wisdom of this statesman and scholar, the impeccable logic of Kissinger faces only one obstacle – it works when the balance of power is has been determined and relations between states have already passed the stage of military conflict.
In this sense, he certainly follows in the footsteps of his great predecessors – Chancellor of the Austrian Empire Klemens von Metternich and British Foreign Secretary Viscount Castlereagh, whose diplomatic achievements were the subject of Kissinger’s own doctoral dissertation in 1956. Both of them went down in history as the creators of a new European order, established after the end of the Napoleonic era in France and which persisted, with minor adjustments, for almost a century in international politics.
Like those illustrious figures, Kissinger appears on the world stage in an era when the balance of power between the most important players is already being determined by “iron and blood.” The time of his greatest achievement was the first half of the 1970s – a period of relative stability.
However, one cannot ignore the fact that the ability of states to behave in that way, back then, was not due to their wisdom, or responsibility to future generations, but down to much more mundane factors. The first being the completion of the “contraction” of the order which obtained its outline characteristics as a result of World War II. Over the next 25 years (1945 to 1970), this state-of-affairs was “finalized” during the war in Korea, the US intervention in Vietnam, the USSR’s military actions in Hungary and Czechoslovakia, several indirect wars between the USSR and the US in the Middle East, the completion of the process of disintegration of the European colonial empires, as well as a significant number of smaller but also dramatic events.
Thus, at the present time, it would be difficult to expect diplomacy to be able to take first place in world affairs at the initial stage of the process, which promises to be very long and, most likely, quite bloody.
The material basis of that order, which was given its final polish by Kissinger’s diplomacy, the policy of “détente” with the USSR and the 1972 reconciliation with China, was the strategic defeat of most of Europe as a result of two world wars in the first half of the 20th century. The collapse of the European colonial empires and the historic rout of Germany in its attempt to take center stage in world affairs brought the United States to the forefront, which made it possible to make politics truly global.
As a result of the self-destruction of the USSR, this order turned out to be short-lived. We see now that this situation was a great tragedy, since it led to the disappearance of the balance of power in favor of the dominance of only one power.
Now we can assume that the emancipation of mankind from Western control is of central importance, and the most important factor in this process is the growth of China’s economic and political power. If China itself, as well as India and other major states outside the West, cope with the task entrusted to them by history, in the coming decades the international system will acquire features that were completely uncharacteristic before.
Most of the significant events that are taking place now, both globally and regionally, are connected with the objective process of the growth in the importance of China and, following it, other large Asian countries. The determination Russia has shown in recent years, and especially months, is also associated with global changes. The fact that Moscow so purposefully stood up to protect its interests and values was due not only to domestic Russian reasons, although they are of great importance. Nor were they predicated upon expectations of direct material assistance from China, which could compensate for the losses during the acute phase of the conflict with the West.
The main external source of Russian self-confidence has been an objective assessment of the state of the international political and economic environment, in which even a complete break with the West would not be mortally dangerous for Russia from the point of view of pursuing its main development goals. Moreover, it is precisely the need for a more active rapprochement with other partners, which Russia has not experienced until recently, that may turn out to be a much more reliable way to survive in a changing environment.
This is what is understood in the US and Europe with the greatest concern. In the event that Russia, during the years of the emerging disengagement from the rest of Europe, creates a comparable system of trade, economic, political, cultural and human ties in the South and East, the return of this country to the Western realm will become technically difficult, if perhaps not even possible.
So far, such a course of events is hindered by a colossal number of factors, among which, in the first place, is the passive stability of close interaction with the rest of Europe and the mutual dealings accumulated over the past 300 years. Moreover, it was other European powers that were the only constant partners of Russia after the appearance of this nation in the arena of international cooperation.
However, in the event that the acute phase of the conflict in Ukraine really turns out to be very long, which, apparently, is the case, then the elementary needs of survival will force Russia to get rid of what binds it to Europe. This is exactly what those Russian scholars and public figures are calling for, who in every possible way emphasize the existential nature of the confrontation taking place on our western borders.
Therefore, it is the understanding by the US, and its allies, that the movement towards a new world order lies on a firm foundation that is the most important source of their struggle with Russia.
The inevitable redistribution of resources and power on a global scale cannot happen in a completely peaceful manner, although the irrationality of an offensive war between the great powers, given the nuclear deterrence factor, provides us with some hope for the preservation of humanity.
Amid the struggle now gaining momentum, Russia, like the rest of Europe, is, despite its military capabilities, a participant inferior in strength to the main warring parties – China and the United States. Therefore, there is a struggle for Russia, and there is a dwindling opportunity for the West to win, and this is what Henry Kissinger is trying to articulate.
This article was first published by Valdai club