“Breaking Russia has become an objective [for US officials] the long-range purpose should be to integrate it,” the 92-year-old told The National Interest in a lengthy interview for the policy magazine’s anniversary that touched on most of the world’s most pertinent international issues. “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.”
The diplomat, who is most famous for serving in the Nixon administration, and controversially being awarded the 1973 Nobel Peace Prize, for negotiating the Vietnam ceasefire, accused the West of failing to recognize the historical context in which the fallout occurred between Moscow and Kiev.
“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.”
Kissinger lays the blame for sparking the conflict at the door of the EU, which proposed a trade deal in 2013, without considering how it would alienate Moscow, and divide the Ukrainian people.
“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 [former Ukrainian president Viktor] Yanukovych to accept the EU terms and be reelected or for Russia to view them as purely economic,” said Kissinger.
Once Yanukovich rejected the deal in November 2013, the EU “panicked”, Russia became “overconfident,” the US remained “passive” as “each side acted sort of rationally based on its misconception of the other” and “no significant political discussions.”
For Kissinger, the wheels of the stand-off between Moscow and the West were already set in motion during the subsequent Maidan street protests – heartily endorsed by the West – which demanded the toppling of the pro-Russian Yanukovich, an aim that was eventually achieved.
“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.”
With the armed conflict in Ukraine still showing no signs of resolution, Kissinger repeated his previous proposal for Ukraine to become a buffer, or mediator state between Russia and the West.
“We should explore the possibilities of a status of nonmilitary grouping on the territory between Russia and the existing frontiers of NATO,” he told The National Interest. “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.”
While Kissinger insists that he believes that Ukraine’s territorial integrity, including Crimea, which joined Russia last year, should have remained unaffected, he called for the West to stop backing Kiev at all costs, even as the victims of the conflict pile up.
“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,” summed up the veteran diplomat.