Why Henry Kissinger Came to Moscow

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Boris Mezhuev

Journalist, political scientist

Last week was marked by the visit of Henry Kissinger, former US Secretary of State, prominent political scientist and geostrategist, to Moscow. Kissinger is an outstanding man, he was awarded the Nobel Prize for his efforts which brought the Vietnam War to the end. One of his achievements was the opening to China and the détente with the Soviet Union. What is more, his diplomacy helped to end a devastating war in the Middle East in 1973.

Over recent years, Kissinger has repeatedly paid visits to Russia and held meetings with President Putin. He has clearly warm relations with the Russian leader; unlike other US experts he has never uttered a bad word about Putin. Though he may not see eye to eye with the Russian president, he refrains from strong or bitter words.

Observers started arguing about the purpose of the American politician’s visit to Russia and the issues he discussed with Putin. Kissinger had a meeting with Russian political elders, delivered a speech at the newly opened Primakov center, talked to international relations experts at the Higher School of Economics and gave an interview to Sergey Brilev. Both the statement and the interview were riddled with quite alarmist rhetoric: US-Russian relations have reached a breaking point when a suppressed conflict can escalate into something worse.

His central tenet was that it is impossible to isolate a country like Russia or ostracize it. Given its vast territory, it will retain its global preponderance in any case. An isolated Russia will be just as dangerous. For instance, consider North Korea which is fully isolated. Problems the two countries face must be handled with due regard to differences in approaches and assessments of certain events.

Two points seem essential in Kissinger’s speech. The first one is that the current administration will not take any adequate steps to tackle the existing problems. Therefore, it is more about the proposition the victor of the 2016 elections will put to Russia. A Republican, Kissinger endeavors to forge bonds between the Russian authorities and a possible winner from his party. It is hard to predict the winner, but it is possible to assume that Kissinger, the most eminent representative of the US foreign policy establishment, is inclined to view the elite-backed candidates as a good bet.

They include Jeb Bush, former Florida Governor, John Kasich (R-Ohaio), or Chris Christie, (R-New Jersey). Alas, these governors did not do well in the primaries and all the middle-of-the-road voters will most likely back 44-year old Marco Rubio (R-Florida).

Rubio is a conservative, though he is less staunch a conservative than Senator Ted Cruz (R-Texas), and he is by far more predictable than millionaire Donald Trump, a current front-runner. After the Iowa caucus Rubio’s rating suddenly tripled, he stands quite strong chance to be elected president. Moreover, his campaign is clearly bankrolled by the richest sponsors of the Republican Party.

Yet I believe that the other candidates will not fail to resort to Henry Kissinger’s services or scorn his recommendations about how to deal with Russia, when a twist of fate brings one of them to the White House. The need to address the challenge will inevitably follow the solemn inauguration in winter 2017. Right now Rubio is at liberty to brag about a no-fly zone over Syria and his readiness to down Russian aircraft. In 2017 he will apparently have to think twice about the rationality of such a claim.

What can we really agree on? I suppose that there will be few differences over the Middle East. It would be remiss to renegotiate the comprehensive nuclear deal reached by Iran and P5+1, as this will be met with the immediate howls of outrage from the European allies. In Syria everything seems to hinge on Bashar al-Assad’s military success. If it is remarkable, Henry Kissinger and other foreign-policy realists will start arguing that Syria’s division along the sectarian lines is the only way to resolve the ongoing conflict. The same approach is likely to be adopted towards Iraq, with Turkey de facto legalizing the Kurdish state as a reciprocal step.

Dealing with the Ukrainian issue, Kissinger reiterated everything that realists, including Zbignev Bzhezinski, Kissinger’s longstanding frenemy and former national security adviser for the US President, usually say. Following the coup on February 22, 2014, the latter started to speak about the “Finlandization” of Ukraine.

Kissinger equivocates and is less precise and direct, but in essence he speaks along the same lines. Ukraine must acquire a non-aligned status, functioning as a bridge between Russia and the West. Diplomats use the term “buffer state” to denote the demilitarized area between the strategic rivals to prevent open warfare. Had Angela Merkel been smart enough to present such a scenario before fateful February 2014, everybody would be feeling much more secure today.

However, that day Merkel kept silent, and she had good reason to. Had she mentioned it, she would instantly have been blamed for promoting a Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, for giving away lands with free and Europe-oriented population to see them driven by Russian geostrategy. People would say, “Are these not double standards that you are applying?

Why are Baltic countries allowed to join the EU and NATO, while Ukraine and Moldova are deprived of an opportunity?

Why should Russian national interests prevail over the free will of the neighboring states? Nowadays there is at least one reasonable answer to these questions. For the very reason that these countries are internally split and lack unanimity whether to leave the Russian area of interest and integrate into the West. Before the 2014 Russian Spring any reference to «other» Ukrainians was immediately dismissed as a matter of little importance as Russia is ostensibly supported merely by venal oligarchs, who can easily be lured into backing a different party.

To some extent, this is exactly what happened. The oligarchs were drawn by Victoria Nuland’s “cookies”, but the grassroots still took to the streets and clearly articulated their intention to stand by Russia. Now cold-headed analysts like Kissinger have a lot more arguments for their opponents, democratic fundamentalists.

But, alas, realists’ discourse will not suffice to support their vision in a debate. After all they are opposed by neocons and liberal “hawks” and they would immediately snap out, asking realists on what ground Russia aspires to be treated in a special way. The West is a different matter, that is the cutting-edge technologies, law, democracy, and social benefits for refugees.

But what is Russia? Nothing but force. Why does the West have to cave in? Nobody knows if prudence might be a reasonable argument. Prudence, as we know, implies the appeasement of hotheads, with appeasement traditionally associated with Chamberlain. But Ted Cruz or even young and hot-tempered Latino Marco Rubio will hardly wish to gain the reputation of a new Chamberlain.

That is why we need something else besides prudence, some ideological trigger that will justify a buffer zone, presumably across the Black Sea, from Tbilisi to Chisinau. Realpolitik-like concessions must be accompanied by something else. We need a new discourse, which will portray these concessions as indispensable, as inalienable to the very nature of phenomena. To put it crudely, we need the language of civilizational geopolitics. Samuel Huntington, late American political scientist and author of The Clash of Civilizations, already tried to impose it on the American elite. But Huntington’s approach did not envision or imply any buffer zones. Everything had to be clearly divided along cultural and confessional lines between civilizations.

Huntington argues that Russia as the core state of the Orthodox civilization was due to assume control over Romania and Bulgaria as well as Ukraine and Georgia. The NATO expansion to the East inflicted the substantial damage on Huntington’s project, but now it seems that its modified version can be revived. It would allow for neutral, limitrophe, inter-civilizational zones. I am afraid that is the only option available.

Either a new American administration will regard Russia as a distinct civilization marked by its own value code and special rights sanctified by history, or it will treat Russia just as a target. Today both Americans and Russians need to refrain from inane theorizing and debating about social and cultural advantages of our country to be regarded as a distinct civilization. We both need to understand that the language of civilizational geopolitics guarantees Europe’s survival, it is a diplomatic tool to avert World War III, which is of vital importance now that the war looms larger than ever before, as Kissinger said.

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