Friday, October 24, 2014
10

Kennan’s Revenge

LONDON – Earlier this month, Russian President Vladimir Putin announced that gas giant Gazprom would start demanding payment a month in advance for the supplies that it sells to Ukraine. The British newspaper The Observer published, in response, a striking cartoon showing Putin sitting on a throne of outward-pointing daggers, turning off the Ukraine gas tap while saying, “Winter is coming.” The background was bright red, and a hammer and sickle and a skull were planted on Putin’s breast. For some, at least, the Cold War is back.

But, before we drift into Cold War II, we would do well to recall why we had the first one. The end of Communism removed one important reason: the Soviet Union’s expansionist thrust and the Western democracies’ determination to resist it. But other reasons remain.

American diplomat George F. Kennan identified them as neurotic insecurity and Oriental secretiveness on the Russian side, and legalism and moralism on the Western side. The middle ground of cool calculation of interests, possibilities, and risks remains elusive to this day.

Kennan is reckoned to have laid the Cold War’s intellectual foundation – at least in the West – with his “long telegram” from Moscow in February 1946, which he followed with his famous Foreign Affairs article, signed “X,” in July 1947. Kennan argued that long-term peace between the capitalist West and communist Russia was impossible, owing to the mixture of traditional Russian insecurity, Stalin’s need for an external enemy, and communist messianism.

Russia, Kennan argued, would seek to bring about the collapse of capitalism not by an armed attack, but by a mixture of bullying and subversion. The correct response, said Kennan, should be “containment” of Soviet aggression through the “adroit and vigilant application of counterforce.”

During President Harry Truman’s administration, United States officials interpreted Kennan’s view as requiring a military build-up against a potential Communist invasion of Western Europe. This gave rise to the Truman Doctrine, from which sprang the logic of military confrontation, NATO, and the arms race.

These developments dismayed Kennan, who claimed that containment was meant to be economic and political, not military. He was one of the main architects of the post-WWII Marshall Plan. He opposed the formation of NATO.

After Stalin’s death, Kennan looked forward to fruitful negotiations with a “mellowing” Soviet system under Nikita Khrushchev. He came to regret the uses to which the ambiguous language of the “long telegram” and his “X” article had been put, lamenting that democracies could pursue a foreign policy only on the “primitive level of slogans and jingoistic ideological inspiration.”

In retrospect, one might ask whether it was NATO or US economic and political support that prevented Western Europe from embracing communism. At any rate, both sides convinced themselves that the other represented an existential threat, and they both built up colossal arsenals to guarantee their security.

Until the Soviet Union collapsed, each brief period of “détente” was followed by a new arms build-up. There was something insane about the whole business, and one is left with the disquieting thought that NATO prolonged the Soviet Union’s life by handing it a ready-made enemy to replace Nazi Germany.

To understand how Russians regard Ukraine today, one needs to view events there through this lens. Following its “victory” in the Cold War, the West made a serious mistake by refusing to concede any form of regional hegemony to Russia, even in countries like Ukraine and Georgia that had once formed part of the historic Russian state.

Rather, under the banner of democracy and human rights, the West actively sought to pry the ex-Soviet countries from Russia’s orbit. Many of them were eager to escape the Kremlin’s gravity, and NATO expanded eastward into the former Soviet bloc in Central Europe, and even into the former Soviet Union, with the admission of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania. In 1996, the 92-year-old Kennan warned that NATO’s expansion into former Soviet territory was a “strategic blunder of potentially epic proportions.”

These Western thrusts undoubtedly inspired Russian paranoia, reflected today in Kremlin-fueled conspiracy theories about Ukraine. And, just as Kennan warned against a foreign policy that was “utopian in its expectation, legalistic in its concept…moralistic…and self-righteous,” the goal of Western policy today should be to find the means to work with Russia to stop Ukraine from being torn apart.

This means talking and listening to the Russians. The Russians have presented their ideas for resolving the crisis. Broadly, they propose a “neutral” Ukraine on the model of Finland and a federal state on the model of Switzerland. The first would exclude NATO membership, but not admission to the European Union. The second would aim to secure semi-autonomous regions.

Such proposals may be cynical; they may also be unworkable. But the West should be urgently testing, exploring, and seeking to refine them instead of recoiling in moralistic horror at Russia’s actions.

Suspended between paranoia and moralism, sensible diplomacy has a hard job. But it should not need the upcoming hundredth anniversary of the second bloodiest war in history to remind our statesmen that low-level events may spin irretrievably out of control.

Read more from "NATO Wakes Up"

Hide Comments Hide Comments Read Comments (10)

Please login or register to post a comment

  1. CommentedChristian Frace

    The question is if it does not turn out all as intended, East Ukraine and Crimea to Russia, Westukraine to West/NATO. Ukrainian bongo state gone. Win-Win-Win.

  2. CommentedJean-Louis Piel

    I disagree totally with this misunderstanding of G.F. Kennan's ideas.

    Robert Skidelsky is making the same error as many of Russian historians in the past: Russian state has not represented only Russian Ethnics but was a dictatorship above all the nationalities which belong unfortunately to this state - this Empire.

    For example in the XIXth century most part of today Ukraine, Poland,Baltic States were part of the Russian state - so called Russian Empire.

    During the past three centuries - from XVIIIth to XXIst Century the Ethnic Russians have represented the main minority of the population of the Russian state - as this Russian state was named Russian Empire or Soviet Union.

    The ideology of colonised citizens of this Russian state - like the ones of Poland, Ukraine, Mongolia, Tatar, Caucasian, Kazhakstan, Belarus, Baltic states, etc were totally different of the ideology of Ethnic Russians. All desire to free themselves from the colonisation of this Russian state. The nature of this Russian state was very related to this colonisation and even most of her leaders were not ethnic Russian but German, Georgian, Ukrainian or at least mixblood with German, etc.

    What George F. Kennan has really well understood is the nature of this state and the fact that the Ethnic Russians were a minority. He explained very well why Ethnic Russians need dictator , even a foreigner and why this dictator needs to create ennemies in front of these Ethnic Russians that most of the time they defined as "Russian slaves". Kennan understands deeply why these Ethnic Russians have been during centuries so passive in front of such foreign dictators.

    At the opposite all the colonised citizens of this Russian state as the ones from Poland, or Ukraine, or Baltic states , or Caucasian states, or Mongolia or mainly all the Central Asian states have always fought against these dictators whose some of them came from their own country - as Stalin with Georgia.

    When these citizens succeed after long long fights to free themselves from the Russian colonialist state, they establish as quick as they can a system of defines which could protect them from being colonised again by this Russian state : it was the main reason for Poland, Baltic state, Rumania, etc to become part of NATO. As for Ukraine and Georgia and Moldova to want to become member of NATO; After to have been brutalised and occupied by this Russian state it is obvious that they become part of NATO. It was not an extension of NATO , it was simply a natural movement from free countries to be part of a secure system against a possible invasion of the Russian state.

    What George F Kennan has defined is why this Russian state has a "natural" tendency to invade, to colonise Ukraine, Belarus, Kazakstan, Caucasian states, etc.

    It is because the Ethnic Russians have a "slave mentality", because they need a dictator - and , that is the most important , it is because they - these "Russian slaves" to belong to a state which colonise others in their names.

    Why they need so much to colonise Ukrainians for example or Georgians? It is because as "Russian slaves" they need to feel that they are people which are under themselves - in a way more slave than themselves. It is absolutely vital for them to feel that other way their status as Russian slave is unbearable.

    It is , in my view, the correct way to understand G.F. Kennan's concepts.

    The containment concept is fundamentally a concept of isolation of Soviet Union - without any direct war against it - because G F Kennan said that Soviet Union will destroy itself by itself, from the interior forces. He means by that that the power of the colonised people like the Polish or the Ukrainians , etc who want to free themselves from the the' Russian state colonisation will automatically destroy Soviet Union. He was right. It was useless to have a war against this Soviet Union - the best was to isolate them.

    Ethnic Russians need to liberate from themselves, from their state of slavery - which is translating most of the time as a colonialist , imperialist mentality. It is easy to notice that when you read the Russian medias today or most of the Russian intellectuals. For them Ukraine as independent state doesn't exist. Ukrainians as citizen of an independent country with a total different history as Russia don't exist for these Russian slaves. Same a little bit for the Georgians.

    But when you speak with Ukrainians or Georgians, you realise very easily that they feel themselves and with good reason that their culture is much superior and older than the ones of the Russians. They see the Russians as "peasants", who have always been backward of all the values and civilisation that they represent which they consider is part of the European civilisation has its highest level at the opposite of the Russian ones. But it is also the same for the Mongolian or for the Tatar, islamist etc.

    The way to manage the Ukrainian crisis is not what proposes Robert Skidelsky who is betraying his Polish origin, the best way to manage this crisis is to help the Ukrainians to fight for their independence, for their freedom, for their desire to be part of EU and of NATO, to end the Russian colonisation which brings them to this disaster. Only a total victory against these Ethnic Russians will mean the end of this crisis.

    Decolonization process has always been a long and very difficult process - all the countries who free themselves from their colonisation have been through civil wars, wars, long and painful fights.

    This Russian colonisation has taken place in Ukraine since more than two centuries . The Ukrainians with their superior civilisation and culture have not succeeded to elevate the Russian ones. It is the reason it is so painful for the Russians to see that the Ukrainians are on the berge to create a real democratic state, to free themselves from the horrible corruption created mainly by the Russian state when themselves as Ethnic Russians they are still prisoners, slaves of their own dictatorship.

    History has demonstrated us that the will of Ukrainian people will dominate the Russian slave mentality. It has always been the case for many countries around the World.

    The real losers are the Ethnic Russians who are lovers of dictator - meaning acting as slave.

    We, European, need to support these Ukrainians to build their own democratic and independent country because it is a fundamental element of our security , of European peace, of our prosperity and of our values.

    In this there is nothing of moralistic - it is pure interest.

  3. Commentedj. von Hettlingen

    According to Robert Skidelsky, the historian George Kennan, "the father" of the US Containment Policy during the Cold War, "argued that long-term peace between the capitalist West and communist Russia was impossible, owing to the mixture of traditional Russian insecurity, Stalin’s need for an external enemy, and communist messianism".
    The Soviet Union never succeeded in bringing about "the collapse of capitalism". Instead it saw its own demise and the rise of a capitalist system ruled by cronies and oligarchs closed to the political elite. Under Putin ordinary Russians are more wealthy and freer than in the old days.
    If Kennan was dismayed that his "Containment Policy" had been misinterpreteted by Harry Truman's administration, he no doubt knew the Russian soul. The Soviet leaders then were "impervious to the logic of reason", but "highly sensitive to the logic of force". His "containment was meant to be economic and political, not military" and he "opposed the formation of NATO". Today Vladimir Putin is not much different from his Soviet predecessors and he sees the NATO eastward enlargement as a real threat to Russia's security.
    In retrospect Skidelsky asks, "whether it was NATO or US economic and political support that prevented Western Europe from embracing communism". Likewise, the question can also be whether Russia would have been a more different country had the West offered Moscow financial help, instead of leaving it to its own devices after the collapse of the Soviet Union? Kennan's post-WW II Marshall Plan helped Germany integrate and prevent it from recividism. Yet it did too little to promote trust between the West and the Soviet Union, leading to an arms race, that posed the biggest threat to the world.
    Skidelsky says: "To understand how Russians regard Ukraine today, one needs to view events there through this lens". Yet Putin believes the Orange Revolution was not the result of popular uprisings at all but orchestrated by America and its allies to subvert real democracy among Russia's former allies. He and many Russians regret the collapse of the Soviet Union, not just because it plunged Russia into chaos but because, during Russia's temporary absence on the international stage, the US made huge strides forward. The Western thrusts in recent months have "undoubtedly inspired Russian paranoia, reflected today in Kremlin-fueled conspiracy theories about Ukraine".

  4. CommentedBasle Jean-Luc

    Excellent article. Thank you. Two quotes to comfort your point of view:
    “The US has treated Russia like a loser since the end of the Cold War.” Jack F. Matlock Jr. – Washington Post - March 14, 2014.
    “Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye?” Matthew, 7,3.

  5. Commentedhari naidu

    It’s amazing what intuitive intelligence and policy advise we’ve here on Ukraine :

    From Richard Haas & AM Slaughter: Former Director’s of Policy Planning directorate of State Department: There is a “primitive level of slogans and jingoistic ideological inspiration,” as quoted by Skidelsky.

    Personally I’m glad that neither of the two are in *foggy bottom* advising Kerry.

    In Syria, Assad has called a general election and will inevitably return to power – while +90% of chemical weapons have been removed by UN Agency under civil war conditions.

    President Obama has more or less given up on Syria – after his failed demarche.

    And it seems he’s no real or serious strategy to deal with Putin – let alone invite him to WH for a serious political dialogue.

    Bottom line: Merkel must have made it absolutely clear to Obama that military action against Russia (or Putin) is not acceptable and will not resolve the crisis.

  6. CommentedVelko Simeonov

    Interesting and objective analysis of the situation. Too bad that the people who run the show will never pay attention to such non-indoctrinated analysis.

  7. CommentedZsolt Hermann

    What sounds strange to me is that every commentary on the Ukrainian conflict pitting Russia against the US and the Western alliance speaks as if we were still speaking about the same polarized world, a de facto communistic or socialist country against the perfectly functioning capitalistic West.
    But is is not true.
    Russia is neither communistic nor capitalistic, it is hung somewhere in between.
    The "free market, constant growth" capitalism is failing, collapsing, and even democracy and freedom themselves are just empty ideas today.
    Then there are other experiments, like the also failing European model, the paradox Chinese system, the highly volatile amorphous Middle East and the developing but completely unpredictable, disjointed Africa.
    It is possible we haven't had such an unpredictable and potentially volatile chaos, explosive mix since the Middle Ages, but this time we arrived here after we had all the possibilities, chances to create the "right system".
    It turns out it is not the system that is the problem, but it is our own, inherently self-centered and egoistic human nature.
    For the first time we can and have to realize it is not the world we need to change, we do not have to be explorers, conquerors, heroes, but we have to critically examine and change ourselves, our own nature.
    And since we evolved into the globally interconnected and interdependent human network we have to do this mutually together.
    When vast natural disaster, global catastrophe strikes people tend to connect and help each other above inherent or historical differences, hatred.
    We should try to do the same now before such calamity forces us.

  8. CommentedMax Samadov

    Only 10% of Ukrainians are in favour of federalization. Perhaps it's the Ukrainians who should be talked to and listened to first.

    The Russan 'proposals' are not meant to resolve the crisis, but rather to destabilize situation in Ukraine further.

  9. CommentedMichael Kryschyshen

    Ukraine should remain non-aligned, but this does not mean that it should be a Moscow dominated buffer-state.

    WWII was the last time Russia relied on Ukraine's strategic position to create distance between Moscow and a Western aggressor. In order to maximize Ukraine's value as a buffer, Stalin employed his infamous "Scorched Earth Policy." Under Moscow's orders the Red Army slaughtered nearly all of Ukraine's livestock, either stole or torched both its grain reserves and the plants growing in the fields, and it demolished roads, bridges, power-plants, apartment buildings, entire city blocks and even treasured landmarks that dated to pre-Christian times.

    Moscow's past actions show that Ukraine was not historically seen as a part of a Russian heartland that needed to be protected at all costs but rather as speed-bump for Western tanks.

    All talk of Russia having special privilege to it's former vassals should cease. That being said, special consideration to Russia's geopolitical concerns should be taken very seriously and to reasure Moscow, all dealings with Ukraine by large Western organizations should be transparent.

    Moscow has no claim to Ukraine and if Moscow feels that a Westernized Ukraine is a mortal threat; then it should take innovative steps, within its own borders, to minimize this threat.

Featured