Kissinger states that Russia has always had expansionist aims, and despite the independence of former Soviet states, Russia has maintained influence if not control over these new states.
The Russian aggression against Ukraine has always been written on the wall, or rather at least since 1994. If one had to read Henry Kissinger’s book on the post-Soviet Union World Order, one would realise that Henry Kissinger, the astute U.S. foremost diplomat who had formulated the US foreign policy in the 1970s, had written of such an eventuality. The article in question was written in 1994 when the US was led by President Bill Clinton and Russia by Boris Yelstin.
In the aftermath of 1991, Russia was in disarray; its economy was in shambles, many items were out of stock, workers went unpaid for months, high inflation, high unemployment, defaults, stock crisis, bottom line, Russia had all the ingredients of a failed economy with little prospects of a comeback. Furthermore, the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 meant that Russia lost its empire, all its Eastern bloc in central Europe, the Baltic countries and Ukraine, while other states also emerged in Central Asia.
Did Russia ever accept such a loss of influence? Today’s conflict demonstrates otherwise.
Indeed, Kissinger states that Russia has always had expansionist aims, and despite the independence of former Soviet states, Russia has maintained influence if not control over these new states. He further argues that the US (at the time) should not acquiesce to Russian claims on the basis of weakening the Russian President’s efforts (Yestin) in bringing forth the necessary market reforms. Kissinger believed that the US should strive to create a ‘balance of power’. The balance of power that Kissinger was arguing for was ignored.
The balance of power that Kissinger was arguing for, was ignored.
Making matters worse was also the attitude of European powers towards NATO. Following the break-up of the Soviet Union and the unification of Germany, together with the EU’s expansion to the East, resulted in a more assertive attitude by the Europeans, except the former Eastern bloc and the Baltic states, which always harboured reservations. European NATO members dragged their feet to make the necessary defence and security investments in their army. This was confirmed lately by one of the German Generals, who stated that the German military was bare. Germany’s decision to scale its reliance on Russian gas to cease its nuclear operations added fuel to the fire. All these matters proved to have created the perfect opportunity for a Russian invasion of Ukraine.
In his book, Kissinger writes, “During the Cold War, the operative American strategy—containment—had as its declared aim changing Soviet purposes, and the debate concerning it was generally about whether the expected change in Soviet purposes had already occurred. Only Nixon consistently dealt with the Soviet Union as a geopolitical challenge”. Here Kissinger argued that the West relied on the personal character of Russian leaders as guarantors of the security status quo achieved in the aftermath of the Soviet collapse. Yet, the emergence of Vladimir Putin in 2000, an unknown former KGB operative, started the course to change all this. Kissinger further writes that “not surprisingly, in the aftermath of the communist collapse, it has been assumed that hostile intentions have disappeared”. It was also suggested that the course of action should be “geared to foreign policy considerations would seek to create counterweights to foreseeable tendencies and not place all the chips on domestic reform”.
You may love him or loath him for his interventionist policy in Africa and South America, but Henry Kissinger perfectly read the signs of the future.
One of the constant errors the West makes is to analyse a situation from its perspective, with often little understanding of historical contexts. Many argue that historical consciousness is too short or our actions are guided by historical blindness. This has never been so evident by the pull-back from Afghanistan.
Yet, Kissinger rightly points out that Russia’s development did not follow the same European trajectory and missed out on events that characterise Europe.
While a Third World War became ever closer to reality by the invasion of Ukraine, should the conflict somehow get resolved, the US should engage with Russia to create the much-needed balance of power to avert future tensions. As Kissinger rightly predicted, Isolating Russia risks resurrecting the Sino-Soviet alliance, and albeit it was short-lived, its re-emergence would send shock waves around the globe.