Historically, Russia’s geographic vulnerability has made establishing buffer zones critical to its national security. Erosion of the buffer, as in NATO expansion eastward, is viewed by the Kremlin as a threat to vital security interests. Russia is a continental power vulnerable to land attack and in the past has suffered tremendous devastation from large, powerful neighbors. For Russia buffer zones are critical to defend the country’s extensive borders. The former imperial borderlands of Russia are deemed to be both elements of its power center and a cushion to protect Russia itself from undesirable encroachments by other great powers. Most Western policymakers fail to understand the seriousness with which Moscow views NATO enlargement, and specifically the possibility of Ukraine’s admission to the alliance. Efforts by the United States and Europe to promote democracy and, by extension, consolidate Western influence in Eastern Europe erode the buffer zone and (from Moscow’s perspective) threaten Russian security. Ukraine ought to be considered a bridge between West and East rather than another potential NATO ally. The United States should focus on holding NATO’s interest-based red lines while also recognizing Russia’s interests—challenging them where it must but not in every possible circumstance.

The view of Henry Kissinger

  • For Russia, historically, Ukraine has been part of their territory at least for 400 years. On the other hand, it is tied up in many respects to Europe. So I personally, which is a minority view, I have thought it was unwise to try to include Ukraine in NATO, but it's also impossible to let it exist as a satellite … of Russia.
  • Ukraine needs to be embedded in the structure of European and international security architecture in such a way that it serves as a bridge between Russia and the West, rather than as an outpost of either side.
  • I favor an independent Ukraine that is militarily non-aligned. If you remove the two Donbas regions from eastern Ukraine, you guarantee that Ukraine is permanently hostile to Russia, since it becomes dominated by its Western part, which only joined Russia in the 1940s. The solution, then, is to find a way to give these units a degree of autonomy that gives them a voice in military entanglements, but otherwise keeps them under the governance of Ukraine.
  • Ukraine should be conceived of as a bridge between NATO and Russia rather than an outpost of either side. Russia can contribute to this by forgoing its aspiration to make Ukraine a satellite; the United States and Europe must relinquish their quest to turn Ukraine into an extension of the Western security system. The result would be a Ukraine whose role in the international system resembles that of Austria or Finland, free to conduct its own economic and political relationships, including with both Europe and Russia, but not party to any military or security alliance.
  • A number of things need to be recognized. One, the relationship between Ukraine and Russia will always have a special character in the Russian mind. It can never be limited to a relationship of two traditional sovereign states, not from the Russian point of view, maybe not even from Ukraine’s.

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