The story of the Serbian husky

Hussein Haridy
Sunday 3 Apr 2022

The reestablishment of European security over the years to come must include Russia if it is to be sustainable in the long run.

Going through some press clippings the other day, I came across an interview that former US secretary of state and national security adviser in the Nixon administration Henry Kissinger gave to the French news magazine La Revue in January 2015 a few months after the annexation of the Crimea by Russia in 2014.

The interview dealt mainly with the relations between the West and Russia and with Russian President Vladimir Putin and the relations between Russia and Ukraine. I find Kissinger’s views in these respects to be particularly relevant to the complex question of the nature of relations between Russia and Ukraine, the historical and cultural backgrounds of which should be taken into account if the conflict in Ukraine is to be settled according to the respective national interests of Russia and Ukraine without any foreign intervention.

The title of the interview was taken from a question from Kissinger that read “will the New World Order be created through chaos or through intelligence?” For the sake of brevity, I will dwell on two of the main ideas that Kissinger formulated in his interview. The first is his reference to the Peace of Westphalia in 1648, and the second concerns Russian-Ukrainian relations. 

Let me start with the former and conclude with the latter, which I think could be an example to be followed in any plans to reestablish European security architecture for the decades to come. This new architecture must include Russia if is to be sustainable in the long run.

For Kissinger, the annexation of the Crimea in 2014 was not an “act of conquest. It was not Hitler invading” another country. He pointed out that neither the US nor Europe had grasped the turn of events in 2014 in Ukraine and its impact on the bilateral relations that tie Ukraine to Russia, whether in the context of negotiations between Brussels and Kyiv on the future of their economic and commercial relations or the demonstrations in the Ukrainian capital in 2014. 

Kissinger said that he believed that these developments should have been the subject of dialogue with Russia. Moreover, he told the magazine that Ukraine had always had a special significance for Moscow and it had been a mistake not to take this into account. I am afraid that NATO, led by the US, is now repeating the same mistake in dealing with the war in Ukraine.

On the role of Russia in the world, Kissinger pointed out that Russia is an important actor in world politics and that its assistance could prove valuable in solving a host of crises. He stressed that it is important that Ukraine remains independent and sovereign in choosing the economic and commercial associations it deems to be appropriate. But he did not think that becoming a member of NATO was a natural right for any country and emphasised that a decision to accept Ukrainian membership of NATO would be difficult to imagine because its members would never vote unanimously in favour. 

It is difficult to determine whether this remains the case in the light of the war in Ukraine.

As for the Peace of Westphalia, Kissinger underlined the fact that the treaties that paved the way for peace in Europe at that time had not been based on the need to reach a compromise in the name of a “moral order.” Instead, they had created a balance of power, something which is actually lacking in the modern world of today.

Speaking about the role of the US in the creation of a New World Order, Kissinger said that because of its power and values the US would certainly play a major role in the establishment of such an order. However, nations become superpowers by virtue of their power and of their being “wise and foresighted,” he said, adding that no nation is strong and wise enough to create a New World Order on its own. I doubt if the Kissinger criteria apply to the US today.

Ignoring historical precedents that hold that peace and security among nations can only come about through political compromises and diplomacy has led to the outbreak of the war in Ukraine. Of course, the narratives of each side as to the true cause of the war are diametrically opposed, but the fact remains that the concerned parties stumbled into an armed conflict that could have been avoided by a NATO declaration that Ukrainian membership was not on the cards today or tomorrow.

Ironically, US President Joe Biden said as much late last year when talking to the news media. If the president of the strongest member of NATO was prepared to say this publicly, why did NATO not officially declare that Ukrainian membership was off the table?

The NATO Summit on 24 March this year demonstrated once again that the Alliance is doubling down on a course of action that it is not sure can lead to peace and security in Europe. Whether intentionally or not, it could drag the war on for an undetermined length of time, with the attendant risk of dangerous escalation. The other day, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said that Russia would resort to the use of nuclear weapons if its very existence as a nation was threatened. Never at the height of the Cold War did the foreign minister of either superpower feel that the very existence of his country was in question.

A friend of mine shared a video with me last week. It was about a gathering of friends hosted by a charming lady. Each of the guests had a pet dog with him. The doorbell rang, and the hostess opened the door to find a handsome young man with a dog. The gentleman asked to join the party with his Serbian husky. The minute he uttered the two words, the hostess and the other guests with their dogs looked very serious, and anger could be seen on their faces, including on those of their pet animals. The young man started walking away, and at that moment all the animals inside realised the hurt they had caused and started running towards the windows to ask the Serbian husky to join them.

The moral of this video is not to hate the Russians. On a more serious note, a change of course by all concerned in the war in Ukraine is now called for. The ideas Kissinger expressed eight years ago in his interview with the French magazine are still relevant. Furthermore, as the secretary-general of the UN stressed in his remarks last week, the war in Ukraine is not “winnable.” How true? 

On 27 March, Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky declared in an interview with the Russian media that Ukraine would consider the option of adopting “neutrality” as a diplomatic alternative to end the senseless war in Ukraine; this “neutrality” would be against security guarantees in any final peace deal between his country and Russia. This is a welcome change in the official Ukrainian position, lately. It could be viewed as a sensible reaction to an official statement by the Russian military that Russia would concentrate its military operations in the Donbas region. Be this as it may, one thing is certain: the war in Ukraine has become self-inflicted losses and destruction on Russia and Ukraine, a war that should not have been waged in the first place had the West, led by the Biden administration, heeded the proposal of French President Emmanuel Macron after his five-hour meeting with Russia’s President Vladimir Putin on 11 February in Moscow about the “Finlandization” of Ukraine. It is possible that other Western powers had other plans and the world is paying a very serious price for the lack of statesmanship.

* The writer is former assistant foreign minister.

*A version of this article appears in print in the 31 March, 2022 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly.

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