Money laundering is a big business in Vladimir Putin’s kleptocracy, with hundreds of billions of dollars in looted Russian cash being cleaned through Western banks, businesses, and IPOs. But just as important for Putin’s continued survival as the absolute dictator of Russia is reputation laundering, demonstrating to his cronies and foreign apologists that he has the connections and credibility to protect their money and other interests. Crucial to this mission are people like Putin’s “old friend” Henry Kissinger, former US Secretary of State and proud champion of the “pragmatic” foreign policy concept that says there is no room for discussions of morality or good or evil in the world, only state interests.
Despite being considered by many in the US and abroad to be a war criminal for the policies of slaughtering civilians in Cambodia with massive bombing campaigns (not to mention hastily abandoning America’s allies in South Vietnam to be wiped out), Kissinger remains a prominent foreign affairs figure. His lobbying firm is active with many foreign regimes and his personal prestige is the biggest reason people like Putin hire them. Kissinger just visited Putin in Moscow and yesterday published an article [archive] calling, as usual, for the US to partner with Russia to divide up the world and to ignore the sovereignty of Ukraine and the human rights of Syrians.
Yes, even though Putin is back in the news this month for being accused of the assassination of Alexander Litvinenko with Polonium in London in 2006 and even though Russia has annexed Crimea and continues to maintain a large invasion force in Ukraine, and even though Russian forces continue to bomb US-backed rebels and Turkish-supported groups in Syria (not ISIS) to support the murderous Assad regime.
Putin is actively working against the interests of the US and EU and the stability of the free world (and has been sanctioned, if weakly, for doing so). But according to Kissinger and other followers of his realpolitik, Putin should be courted and treated as a partner simply because Russia is more powerful than its victims. This sort of immoral pragmatism is itself a shield for the complacency and appeasement that lets dictators like Putin become so secure and confident that they can crush all opposition at home and then lash out abroad. Ronald Reagan won the Cold War by refusing to make mutually beneficial deals with Gorbachev’s USSR, deals that a Kissinger would have jumped at, thereby preserving the horrors of the Iron Curtain for much longer. Reagan was also criticized for his “unrealistic” and “idealistic” foreign policy, but thank goodness he won anyway and that he held to the ideals his critics were so eager to throw away.
Incredibly, this “appeasement at all costs” strategy Kissinger is recommending today is nearly identical to the one he tried to push on the new administration of George HW Bush in the final days of the Reagan administration! From Mann’s book, The Rebellion of Ronald Reagan:
The Nixon-Kissinger foreign-policy network reasserted itself. Reagan and Schultz were on the way out, and so, too, were the approaches they had embraced: the emphases on economics, ideas, and rhetoric as key components of Ameican policy toward the Soviet Union. American strategy was to be redirected toward the more traditional issues of geopolitics and the balance of power.
Henry Kissinger quickly sought to place himself at the center of American policy once again. In December 1988, a month before the start of the new administration, Kissinger visited the White House to talk with the president-elect, Scowcroft, and Baker in Bush's vice-presidential office. He argued that they should allow him to try to open up a secret channel to Gorbachev on behalf of the new administration. In particular, Kissinger was interested in arranging a quiet deal or understanding with Gorbachev about the future of Eastern Europe. The Soviet leader woud be asked to agree that the Soviet Union would not intervene with force in Eastern Europe to stop political reforms or liberalization. In exchange, the Bush administration would recognize Soviet security interests in Eastern Europe and agree not to try to entice countries as Poland, Hungary, and Czechoslovakia away from their Warsaw Pact alliance with the Soviets.
Kissinger immediately jumped in to undo Reagan’s firm stand. Bush was sympathetic to this cautious plan as well, but thankfully things unraveled too fast for them to prop up the Berlin Wall. At least the USSR was a very serious and unpredictable threat in 1988. What Kissinger and his ilk are doing today is worse because it is so clearly unnecessary. Why defend and appease Putin when he himself is the source of the instability?
Russia invaded Ukraine! RUSSIA INVADED UKRAINE AND ANNEXED CRIMEA! Negotiating with Russia over the future of its European hostage while ignoring the wishes of the Ukrainians themselves should disgust anyone who cares about national sovereignty and the right to freedom and self-determination. Ukraine is an independent nation of 45 million people, not a “buffer state” to occupy Putin for a while. Certainly we can say that had the US and Europe conceded to Russia in the 1990s along the lines Kissinger suggests today, instead of admitting the Baltic nations into NATO over Russia’s protests, that there would now be Russian tanks in Tallinn, Vilnius, and Riga just as there are Russian military forces in Georgia and Ukraine, the only former Soviet republics that have tried to embrace Europe and democracy without NATO protection.
The western politicians who attempted to appease the brutal dictators of German and the USSR in the 30s, 40s, and 50s deserve to be remembered, but at least their political and moral cowardice was sincere and, they thought, in the national interest. They weren’t doing it for personal financial gain or because national business lobbies were worried about losing out on sales. Both are absolutely normal today, as politicians trip over themselves to flout international sanctions -- and any sense of decency -- to curry favor with some of the world’s most brutal regimes.
Kissinger says that the US and Russia must “move beyond the grievances” to move ahead. That would mean putting aside the grievances of the Georgians and Ukrainians under Russian military assault, the grievances of the families and friends of Anna Politkovskaya, Sergei Magnitsky, Alexander Litvinenko, Boris Nemtsov, and the many others who have been murdered for opposing Putin, the grievances of the families of the 298 people on flight MH17, blown out of the sky by a Russian missile fired by Putin’s invasion force in Ukraine, the grievances of the many thousands of Syrian civilians targeted by Russian bombardment. The list could go on and, as long as Putin is in power and enabled by good friends like Henry Kissinger, the list will no doubt get longer.