Former US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger said that Ukraine should give up territory to seal an end to the Russo-Ukrainian war in an address to Western leaders. Ukrainian leader then gave a “polite” response to the former secretary, declining his suggestion.

Speaking through video link, the 98-year-old Kissinger cautioned the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, that failing to restart peace talks with Moscow and the further isolation of the Kremlin would bring severe long-term repercussions to the stability of Europe.

“Negotiations need to begin in the next two months 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,” he said.

A “status quo ante” refers to bringing back a scenario wherein Russia formally occupied Crimea and informally held control over Ukraine’s eastern regions of Luhansk and Donetsk. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky outlined his conditions for Ukraine to enter peace negotiations earlier this month. One condition was the restoration of pre-invasion borders.

Then Vice President and now President Biden and Dr. Henry Kissinger during th 45th Munich Security Conference 2009 (Kai Mörk, CC BY 3.0 DE , via Wikimedia Commons). Source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Msc_2009-Saturday,_08.30_-_11.00_Uhr-Moerk_015_Biden_Kissinger.jpg
Then-Vice President and now President Biden and Dr. Henry Kissinger during the 45th Munich Security Conference 2009 (Kai MörkCC BY 3.0 DE, via Wikimedia Commons)

Kissinger reminded the forum that Russia has been a crucial part of the power balance in Europe for the last 400 years. He noted that the leader of the West should neither lose sight of maintaining a long-term relationship with Moscow nor risk incentivizing Russia to enter a permanent alliance with China.

“I hope the Ukrainians will match the heroism they have shown with wisdom,” the veteran statesman said, who was State Secretary for the Nixon and Ford administrations. Kissinger was also the architect of the US rapprochement with China during the Cold War for the purposes of preventing Russia and China from forming a more formal military alliance that would threaten Asia.

News of Kissinger’s suggestion soon caught wind, and criticism against the former secretary soon followed. Russian political activist and chess grandmaster Garry Kasparov said that Kissinger’s take on the conflict is not just “immoral” but has been “proved wrong over and over.”

“Conceding to great power spheres like Putin and Xi Jinping want isn’t sustainable because dictators inevitably need conflict. This isn’t the Cold War,” Kasparov wrote on Twitter.

“The myth that Putin, Xi, & other dictators can be placated with economic engagement and political appeasement has been refuted. It drags the free world down to their level and spreads corruption while giving them more confidence to crack down at home & start foreign adventures,” he further wrote in a follow-up tweet.

Kasparov also drew attention to Kissinger’s close ties with Vladimir Putin, who he had met at least 17 times. He then said that the former secretary should “stop telling Ukrainians what they must concede and concede to.”

President Vladimir Putin with former US secretary of state Henry Kissinger (Kremlin.ru, CC BY 4.0 , via Wikimedia Commons). Source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:President_Vladimir_Putin_with_former_US_secretary_of_state_Henry_Kissinger.jpg
President Vladimir Putin with former US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger (Kremlin.ruCC BY 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons)

Ukraine Says No to Kissinger

Unsurprisingly, the Ukrainian government was lukewarm on Kissinger’s suggestion. A Ukrainian MP shared his “polite” response to the former secretary’s recommendation.

“I think Mr. Kissinger still lives in the 20th century, and we are in the 21st century and we are not going to give up any inch of our territory,” Ukrainian member of parliament Oleksiy Goncharenko said on Wednesday. 

“That would be the worst signal to Putin. We should stop Putin now and not let him go further,” Goncharenko said. He added that the best way to establish long-term peace in the region is to expedite the membership of Ukraine in the European Union.

Ukraine’s foreign minister Dmytro Kuleba also shared his disagreement with Kissinger’s position on the conflict.

“I respect Henry Kissinger, but I appreciate that he’s not holding any official position in the US administration, he has his own opinion, but we strongly disagree with it,” he said.

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“This is not something we’re going to do,” Kuleba added.

Another member of the Ukrainian parliament, Inna Sovsun, had some stronger words for Kissinger compared to some of her colleagues.

“It’s a pity that the former US Secretary of State believes that giving up on part of the sovereign territory is a way to peace for any country!” Sovsun tweeted. “Truly shameful!”

Kissinger is no stranger to controversy and being on the receiving end of harsh criticism for his takes. In 1973, when the veteran politician was awarded the Nobel Prize for his efforts in ironing out a peace agreement between the US and Vietnam, critics highlighted America’s destructive bombing campaign in Cambodia that happened during his time as secretary.

“It’s almost impossible to say that you disagree with Henry Kissinger … I’m afraid that on television now, I have to officially declare that I disagree with Henry Kissinger if that is the statement he makes,” Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte said.

“For us, the territorial integrity, the sovereignty of Ukraine stands above all else, and it is up to Volodymyr Zelensky, the President of Ukraine, and his team to decide how they will conduct the peace negotiations that we hope will start one day,” he added.

To some extent, the resistance to Kissinger’s proposal is an echo of WWII when France, Italy, and England were desperate to avoid armed conflict with Nazi Germany at met with German officials over their claims of territory in Czechoslovakia.  The Sudetenland was a region of ethnic Germans in Czechoslovakia that Hitler wanted inside the borders of Germany.   In the Munich Agreement, the UK, Italy and France recognized Germans claims and pressured the Czechs to surrender the territory to Germany. Given that the Munich Agreement voided a mutual defense pact the Czechs had with France, they were left with little choice but to surrender it or face invasion by Germany. In doing so, the Czechs also gave away ground with natural and constructed defenses that made it easy for Germany to later seize the entire country