In a discussion on Monday at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger shared his concerns about the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Kissinger told Klaus Schwab, the World Economic Forum's founder and executive director, that Ukraine should negotiate with Russia “before it creates upheavals and tensions that will not be easily overcome.”
"Ideally, the dividing line should be a return to the status quo ante. Pursuing the war beyond that point would not be about the freedom of Ukraine but a new war against Russia itself,” Kissinger said, elaborating that the United States and its European allies should not get lost “in the mood of the moment.”
A return to the way things were before Russia’s invasion of Ukraine involves continued Russian occupation of the Crimean Peninsula and the legitimization of Russian-backed separatists in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions. It is not the West that is lost “in the mood of the moment” but Kissinger himself. His dedication to the post-Cold War security order is blinding him to the future of a militarized Europe dedicated to countering Russian influence.
Russian President Vladimir Putin permanently shattered the state of affairs in Europe when he recognized the so-called Luhansk People's Republic and Donetsk People's Republic on Feb. 21. On Feb. 22, Putin declared that the Minsk accords, which negotiated a ceasefire for the 2014 war in the Donbas region, “no longer existed,” and he invaded Ukraine the next day.
Putin has already shown the West his lack of faith in negotiated solutions. Kissinger does not care. His realpolitik ideology is only concerned with concessions to dominant states in fear of major disruptions to the balance of power. The precedent of caving to Russia’s demands will only cause further disruptions to the security of European nations.
Even if Ukraine decides to abandon its national sovereignty and concede land to Russia, the balance of power cannot be restored to what it once was. With Sweden and Finland launching bids for NATO membership, expansion of the Western alliance is reaching critical mass. Admitting Finland will more than double the pact’s border with Russia, and Russia is preemptively halting gas exports to Finland.
The balance of power has already shifted. Ukrainians fighting to regain control of Donetsk and Luhansk is not “a new war against Russia itself” but a continuation of the conflict that started in 2014. His language legitimizes Russia’s casus belli by recognizing these areas as Russian and has dangerous repercussions for regional stability should the Davos elite heed his words.
In the nation of Georgia, the Russian-backed breakaway region of South Ossetia declared that a referendum would be held to join Russia. Moldova faces a threat of Russian invasion through the breakaway province of Transnistria, a region that borders Ukraine. By referring to the separatist Donetsk and Luhansk regions as “Russia itself,” Kissinger concludes that Russian might alone is enough to justify their demands. In his eyes, it is up to the West to choose how to appease and concede to its rivals.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky also spoke at the Davos forum on Monday. Zelensky told Davos attendees, “Brute force seeks nothing but the subjugation of those who it seeks to subdue, and it does not talk — it kills, as Russia does in Ukraine just as we speak today.” The Ukrainian president understands that Russia cannot be appeased, but Kissinger’s statements argue otherwise. “I hope the Ukrainians will match the heroism they have shown with wisdom,” he said. Only at Davos would a former secretary of state label Western defeat as “wisdom.”
James Sweet is a summer 2022 Washington Examiner fellow.