Thursday, 6 March 2014

Kissinger is mostly correct on Ukraine

Some of you may not realize that I have a personal relationship with Henry Kissinger.

Now, in the interests of fairness, I should admit that it is more akin to the sort of relationship that some people have with Jesus, than the one you have with your BFF: which is to say that only one party to the relationship knows it exists.

Nonetheless, over the course of the best part of four years of my life, poring over HAK's memos and conversations and briefing notes and doodles in the margins of the aforementioned, having read all volumes of his autobiography and just about every biography written about him, I feel that I have a connection with Henry Alfred Kissinger.  I feel I know a little bit about how his mind works.

Henry Kissinger (l) and me, when I used to be Archbishop Makarios of Cyprus.

And having written previously about the parallels, as I see them, between HAK's boss and Putin (and even having had a twitter interaction with @dick_nixon about it),  I was surprised that Kissinger had not yet weighed in on the Ukrainian crisis.  Thankfully, that wait was ended yesterday evening when an opinion piece by him was published in the Washington Post online, and which is presumably in today's print edition.

Although it was still a number of years before my birth, my relationship with Kissinger ended, more or less, in the summer of 1973, just before he was sworn in as Secretary of State, so I was delighted to see that, unlike when he was just National Security Adviser in the first Nixon White House (as opposed to both NSA and Secretary of State from September 1973 to November 1975), the good folks down in Foggy Bottom appear to have taught Henry a thing or two about the power of ideas and ideologies, about which he was somewhat scornful and dismissive when he worked in the White House.

On the whole, if you rolled up my own thoughts on what has been happening in Ukraine, and combined them with decades of experience as, for better or worse, one of the world's most prominent statesmen and thinkers on international affairs, you could say that Henry and I have arrived at almost the same conclusions.

I also think it is fair to say that Henry's analysis of the current crisis has gained him some respect from those who would not normally be inclined towards him:

Firstly, Henry reminds us that
The West must understand that, to Russia, Ukraine can never be just a foreign country.  Russian history began in what was called Kievan-Rus.  The Russian religion spread from there.  Ukraine has been part of Russia for centuries, and their histories were intertwined before then... Even such famed dissidents as Aleksandr Brodsky and Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn insisted that Ukraine was an integral part of Russian history and, indeed, Russia.
This is a point I previously touched upon, and Kissinger follows this up with a valid criticism of the EU's
bureaucratic dilatoriness and subordination of the strategic element to domestic politics in negotiating Ukraine's relationship to Europe contributed to turning a negotiation into a crisis.
('Twas ever thus, I am sure Henry was thinking to himself.  Forty years ago he famously asked "Who do I call if I want to call Europe?"  Imagine his disappointment if today someone came back to him with a phone number for Cathy Ashton.)

This point was actually one on which I had intended to write today: when the history of this crisis is written, the government of Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk will bear much of the blame, having been the driving force behind an attempt to create a pro-EU buffer between itself and Russia.  Its foreign minister (along with that of France and Germany) then failed to object when the Ukrainian opposition rejected the 21st February agreement that in any case amounted to a "delayed capitulation of Yanukovich", in the words of Dmitri Trenin's excellent analysis, 'The crisis in Crimea could lead the world into a second cold war'.

I am not backtracking on my rejection of the "new Cold War" analogy, (the headline was certainly written by some sub-editor who couldn't think of anything better), but Henry also highlights one of the main reasons why I reject the comparisons: it removes Ukrainians as the prime actors and makes them appear mere pawns in a game of geopolitical chess (another lesson that Kissinger appears to have learned over the past 40 years).
A wise U.S. policy toward Ukraine would seek a way for the two parts of the country to cooperate with each other. We should seek reconciliation, not the domination of a faction.
Russia and the West, and least of all the various factions in Ukraine, have not acted on this principle. Each has made the situation worse. Russia would not be able to impose a military solution without isolating itself at a time when many of its borders are already precarious. For the West, the demonization of Vladimir Putin is not a policy; it is an alibi for the absence of one.
Ouch!, but HAK hit the ball out of the park with that one.

(He also notes that Ukraine " should function as a bridge" between the EU and Russia.  It's a good thing Chris Christie isn't president in that case.)

Kissing then goes on to offer some principles that would produce, he feels, sufficient balanced dissatisfaction on both sides to broker a deal.  These include Ukraine not joining NATO but being free to "choose freely its economic and political associations, including with Europe", and Russian recognition of Ukrainian sovereignty over Crimea, in exchange for "reinforced" autonomy for Crimea.

It is on the latter point that Henry's analysis starts to wobble, in my view.

First of all, Russia already recognizes Ukrainian sovereignty over Crimea, as part of the 1994 Budapest Memorandum on Security Assurances, co-signed by the UK and United States, in which Russia, Britain and America promised to uphold the territorial integrity of Ukraine in exchange for Kiev giving up its nuclear weapons (don't laugh).

Two interesting analyses (here and here yesterday both concluded that Russia's ambitions in Ukraine do not extend to annexing Crimea, just to creating what is in effect a Russian protectorate within Ukraine's borders (as it has done in Moldova and Georgia) that it can use to destabilize Kiev.  I think that is probably right, and today's vote by the Crimean parliament to join Russia is probably just an attempt to gain further leverage in whatever negotiations are to come.

At the start of this crisis, my analysis was similar to Henry's: that Russia would be willing to let Ukraine integrate with the EU (but not NATO), in exchange for Crimea.  As things have progressed over the past week, however, I begin to wonder will that be enough.  Putin has always viewed Ukraine as being a key element to his Customs Union and proposed Eurasian Union; he fears that Ukraine in the EU will be a back door through which the European Union will flood Russia with European goods and fatally undermine his Customs Union.  Even a Ukrainian Free Trade Agreement with Brussels would threaten that.

My best guess now is that Putin will actively use a destabilized Crimea to prevent Kiev further integrating with Europe.  And that being so, HAK's principles will not produce balanced dissatisfaction: Putin will achieved his goals, and Ukraine will return to being the ukraine/ukraina, a borderland or march, at least until its domestic politics arrive at a consensus about its future direction.

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