Henry Kissinger, the polarizing 98-year-old former secretary of state who played a pivotal role in orchestrating U.S. relaxation with the Soviet Union, has this advice for Ukraine: Give up territory to make peace with Russia.
In a video link to the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, Mr Kissinger said on Monday that failure to resume negotiations with Russia and further alienation of the Kremlin would have serious long-term consequences for stability in Europe.
“Negotiations must begin in the next two months before it creates upheavals and tensions that are not easy to overcome,” he said. “Ideally, the dividing line should be a return to the status quo ante,” he added, apparently referring to a restoration of Ukraine’s borders as they were before the war started in February. “Continuing the war beyond that point would not be about Ukraine’s freedom, but about another war against Russia itself.”
No sooner had Mr. Kissinger uttered those words than his statements elicited loud reactions on social media and beyond. Many critics said that the man who preached the famous realism in international relations was suggesting something clearly unrealistic.
“It is unfortunate that the former US Secretary of State believes that giving up part of sovereign territory is a path to peace for any country!” Inna Sovsun, a member of the Ukrainian parliament, wrote on Twitter.
Richard N. Haass, the chairman of the influential Council on Foreign Relations, wrote on Twitter that Mr. Kissinger’s suggestion “would likely be rejected by Ukraine for asking the country to give up too much and by Putin for giving Russia gave little.”
Most Ukrainians also reject the idea. A poll released Tuesday by the Kiev Institute of Sociology showed that 82 percent of Ukrainians say they do not want to give up to Russia.
During peace talks in March, Ukrainian officials said their country was ready to declare itself permanently neutral – abandon the prospect of joining NATO, a key Russian demand – and discuss Russian territorial claims. But the issue of ceding territory is extremely sensitive in Ukraine, with many Ukrainians adamant that the country should not make territorial concessions or give in to Russia’s demands.
Russia captured Crimea from Ukraine in 2014, and for the past eight years, Ukrainian forces have been fighting against Russian-backed separatists who control much of the eastern Donbas area.
Mr. Kissinger, a high priest of realpolitik, is no stranger to controversy. When he was awarded the Nobel Prize in 1973 for his efforts to negotiate an end to the Vietnam War, critics lamented, pointing to the devastating US bombing campaign in Cambodia during his tenure. Two members of the Nobel Committee resigned in protest.
Garry Kasparov, Russian chess grandmaster and political activist, wrote on Twitter that Mr Kissinger’s latest position on Ukraine was not only immoral, but also “has been proven wrong time and again”.
Referring to President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia and President Xi Jinping of China, Mr. Kasparov added: “Giving in to major areas of power like Putin and Xi Jinping is untenable because dictators inevitably need conflict. This is not the Cold War.”