Who Misread Whom in Ukraine War Debacle?

Henry Kissinger made his first public remarks on the Ukraine war in an interview with the Financial Times of London in Washington on May 11th. In this appearance, he identified the miscalculation that turned the long simmering hostilities between the now warring parties in this conflict into a catastrophe affecting the entire world. This error was the failure of one or both sides not "find[ing] out where the inner red line of the opponent is." This cardinal dictum of foreign policy was followed by successive presidential administrations throughout the 43-year Cold War era and prevented this ideological confrontation from turning into a hot war involving the use of nuclear weapons. Dr. Kissinger now sees the world closer to this abyss than any time in history.

In this 24-minute excerpt of his FT interview, Dr. Kissinger expounds on what he see as the causes and consequences of the current Ukraine war from a historical and geopolitical perspective. The comments made on this YouTube video cover the range of contemporary opinions of Dr. Kissinger – from war criminal to the sagest foreign policy strategist alive today. Wherever you fall on this spectrum, the pro-war FT (like virtually all MSM in the UK and US) would not be interviewing Dr. Kissinger if the Atlantic Alliance power brokers in Washington and London did not think his perspective was insightful. Thus, I was surprised that Dr. Kissinger’s commentary (as covered below) is brutally critical of the Biden Administration (and by inference its junior NATO partners) in their provocation and conduct of this war. Dr. Kissinger also foresees adverse geopolitical consequences for the collective West in the years ahead as it confronts China as a result of this war.

Not believing in coincidences, I find it revealing that US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin made an out-of-the-blue call on Friday May 12th – the day after the Kissinger interview was published – to his counterpart in the Russian Ministry of Defense (MoD). These two principals had not spoken since before the war started. In this call made at Austin’s request, he "urged an immediate ceasefire in Ukraine." The Pentagon added that "Secretary Austin continues to have concerns about what’s going on in Ukraine." Incongruously, this call was made by the same Gen/SecDef Austin who had announced two weeks earlier on a high profile European trip an escalation of US war aims in the conflict. Besides fighting for Ukrainian democracy, Austin said, a second US goal in the conflict was "see[ing] that Russia [is] weakened to the degree that it can’t do the kinds of things that it has done in invading Ukraine." This goal presages the long war that General Mark Milley foresees. Hard to see how an immediate ceasefire – as desirable as that would be and no matter which side you think is winning on the battlefield – would achieve Austin’s new stated goal for the war and President Biden’s call for regime change in Russia. Is there a purpose behind this mixed messaging or is it evidence of incompetence?

Also on Friday May 12th, German Chancellor Olaf Scholtz called Russian President Vladimir Putin and urged an immediate ceasefire in the war. A spokesperson said Scholtz told Putin "progress needed to be made in finding a diplomatic solution as soon as possible." This request is off-script based on the US position on the war as expressed emphatically by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi during her May 1st meeting with Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky in Kyiv. At a press conference afterwards, she stated, "America stands with Ukraine. We stand with Ukraine until victory is won. And we stand with NATO."

Is this belligerent talk by US officials being walked back following Dr. Kissinger’s sobering comments? What do these contradictory statements about the goals for the war say about NATO’s supposed rock-solid unity?

To ascertain which side misread the other and/or engaged in deceptive behavior for starting the war, Dr. Kissinger’s strategic level perspective and analysis provides only half of the pertinent information. We also need ground-truthing of the pre-war facts on the ground as reported (or intentionally misreported) in the West’s media narrative. The same holds true for self-serving war reports currently put out by each side’s Mod and the Pentagon. To pull back the curtain on these matters, we are fortunate to have the commentary and analysis of retired Swiss army intelligence officer Colonel Jacques Baud. He possess unique "situational awareness" (military term meaning knowing the history, players, dynamics, and what is going in your battle space) of the conflict in Ukraine. As recounted in this in-depth article, Colonel Baud served both as a liaison with NATO and as a trainer and monitor in the Donbas region of Ukraine starting in 2014 through his retirement in 2018. His observations as a neutral-country interloper – extended to present by the personal contacts he has maintained with individuals in-country – provides him a better understanding of the causes of the war and how it is playing out than anybody ensconced in Washington, the other major NATO capitals, and the mostly pro-Ukraine media in the collective West. I can relate to Colonel Baud’s insider’s battlefield knowledge and disdain for erroneous DoD and MSM war reporting from my own experience serving eight years as a field-level civilian advisor in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Let’s hear from these two experts in their own words. First are Dr. Kissinger’s remarks at that the geopolitical and strategic military level from the 24 minute excerpt of his FT interview conducted in-person on stage on May 11th at the Kennedy Center. Second are Colonel Baud’s remarks on the war at the operational and battlefield level made in a 106-minute Delingpole podcast interview also conducted on May 11th. His full interview is available on Podbeam and Apple. After reviewing this expert source material, you can determine for yourself which side in this conflict failed to ascertain and observe the other side’s inner red lines. You will also be more informed on the true status of the war and its eventual likely outcome.

Dr. Henry Kissinger

  • H Kissinger was an early and consistent critic of NATO’s post-Cold war expansion eastward which he foresaw to be a dangerous provocation of Russia. (A charge now echoed by Pope Francis.) His seminal commentary on this foreign policy faux pax in the case of Ukraine was a March 2014 op-ed in the Washington Post titled, "To resolve the Ukraine Crisis, Start at the End." His key insight: "The test of policy is how it ends, not how it begins." NATO’s unrestricted ‘open door’ policy on expansion has now demonstratively failed this Kissinger test. Not deterred, NATO is about to repeat this mistake for a sixth time in the case of Finland and Sweden.

  • Having met in person with Putin over 20 times during a 15-year period in academic and foreign policy forums, Kissinger learned Putin has a "mystic faith" in Russian history and felt offended and threatened by NATO’s moving the security line "east of the Elbe." Putin was fearful of the "adsorption of this entire area" into NATO. This fear triggered Russia’s military action in Ukraine as a strictly defensive measure. Notably, Kissinger does not see Russia’s invasion of Ukraine as an attempt by Putin to recreate the USSR. But after the war ends, he foretells: "We are not going back to the previous relationship." A new world order lies ahead.

  • Led on by the FT interviewer, Kissinger thinks Putin miscalculated Ukraine’s resistance and overestimated Russia’s non-nuclear military capabilities (i.e., both are reiterating British/US talking points which Baud disputes in his podcast below). This discussion led to the question of what is Putin’s inner redline for possibly using nuclear weapons. Kissinger does not answer this question but opines that the use of [modern] nuclear weapons is a threshold the "world is not prepared for." Thus, having poked the Russian bear, would it not be in the best interests of the West (and the world) – based on the MSM narrative that Ukraine is clobbering Russia on the battlefield – to let Putin "win" in some way? Per Kissinger’s red line dictum, this would be a prudent strategic climb-down than trying to eliminate Putin and degrade Russia as a military power through a long war that could go nuclear and destroy the world. Just a thought.

  • Kissinger opines "the geopolitical situation globally will undergo significant changes after the Ukraine war is over… [not knowing what will happen after the war], I think it is unwise to take an adversarial position to two adversaries [Russia and Chine] in a way that drives them together." This of course is exactly what the US and EU have done with their draconian sanctions against Russia and the West’s amped up militarism in East Asia directed against China. The actions give Russia and China a common enemy in the West. Until now, successive US administrations have assiduously avoided doing this since Nixon recognized communist China in 1972. Going forward, Kissinger argues for not making every confrontation between superpowers a win/lose proposition. He see the "best hope of restraint [being] the self-restraint of leaders on both sides."

  • Kissinger continues, "But in terms of a general strategy ahead of us, we should not lump Russia and China together as an integral element." The interviewer interrupts, "I take it then that the Biden administration’s framing of its grand strategic challenge as being democracy vs. autocracy is the wrong framing?" Kissinger responds, "I am not in agreement stating an adversarial position as the basic element of the relationship." After stating that the West has to be conscious of differences in ideology and apply this consideration internally, Kissinger says "[ideological] differences should not be the principle issue of confrontation." He continues, "Unless we are prepared to make regime changes, the principal goal of our foreign policy, which I think given the evolution of technology and the enormous destructiveness of the weapons that now exist, [war] may be imposed on us by the hostility of others. But we should avoid generating it by our own attitudes."

  • The above statements by Kissinger – the dean of the American foreign policy establishment – are a direct repudiation of the Biden administration’s simplistic and dangerous "us against them" framing of its foreign policy doctrine on ideological grounds. This doctrine is a prescription for ‘endless wars’ with the war in Ukraine being a case in point. This exchange between Secretary of State Tony Blinken and Senator Rand Paul in a recent senate hearing shows how under the Biden doctrine the US bestows fundamental rights on other countries – rather than ascertaining US national security interests – to determine when our country engages in a military conflict. When challenged by Senator Paul why the Biden administration did not pursue negotiations with Russia on the issue of Ukraine entering NATO in the fall of 2021 to prevent a likely war with a nuclear superpower, Blinken’s response was that the US has an "open door policy" for all countries that want to join NATO regardless of the security concerns voiced by adversely affected countries. (Russia in this case.) Blinken goes on to say (circa 1:18 mark in the video) that this "fundamental right" goes to "the heart of the international rules-based order."

  • That sounds magnanimous. But as all non-Western aligned countries know, the so-called international rules are administered to serve the interests of the US and its allies. Where were the outcries from the rules-based-order officiants in Washington and the members of Congress now outraged over Russia’s invasion of Ukraine (most of whom voted for and funded the Iraq war) following the US/UK unlawful invasion of Iraq in 2003? The Iraq war caused orders of magnitudes more deaths, destruction, war crimes, and refugees than today’s Ukraine war. The Biden Administration’s neoliberal ideological position overrode the real politic considerations – as voiced by Kissinger, George Keenan, and others – that made changing Ukraine’s historic non-aligned status over Russia’s strident objections a provocation that caused a war with a country possessing "weapons of enormous destructiveness."

  • Kissinger expresses deep concerns that "weapons on both sides are multiplying and their sophistication and increasing in lethality every year. But there is almost no discussion internationally on what would happen if these weapons were used." He continues, "This is an issue that has been neglected" and "we need a new context for diplomacy and war." This is not a new concern for Kissinger. He coauthored an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal in January 2007 with three other preeminent statesmen (a moniker now out-of-use) – George Shultz, William Perry, and Sam Nunn – calling for a nuclear-weapons free world. This foresightful initiative was, of course, DOA in Congress given its love affair with the nuclear weapons industry. Given that the use of nuclear weapons is a distinct possibility in the current war, Kissinger is worried that a dangerous precedent could be set for rogue state/actors to use nuclear weapons for blackmail. This possibility was the main concern that above Four Horsemen cited in their 2007 WSJ op-ed. This danger is why Kissinger says, "We are now living in a totally new era" The only question is: Will the bipartisan War Party that controls US foreign and military policy realize this danger and take action to preclude it before the unthinkable happens?

Colonel Jacques Baud

  • In explaining what both the interviewer and Baud perceive to be a pro-Ukrainian basis in Western MSM war reporting, Baud cites Clausewitz’s famous quote, "War is politics by other means." He sees the press being guilty of "adjusting to facts to support its desired narrative" rather than other way around. This distortion of "the fact on the ground is dangerous most of all for the Ukrainians since it allows the US and NATO to misuse and exploit them … for fighting Putin rather than helping Ukraine." He goes on, "That is what disturbs me the most in this conflict." Baud sees the sanctions on Russia "backfiring" and making Putin more popular than ever. He cites this fact and the lack of any clearly articulated objectives by the US and NATO in the Ukraine war as examples of the "lack of strategic thinking" by Western leaders.

  • Similar to Kissinger in his March 2014 Wapo op-ed on Ukraine, Baud recounts how Crimea became an independent soviet satellite republic in ’89 before Ukraine claimed it by force after the USSR dissolved in ’91. Crimea’s independence from Ukraine was affirmed in a democratic plebiscite after the Maidan coup in February 2014. Baud says the "little green men" who secured Crimea for Russia after the coup were actually 20,000 local UKR soldiers sympathetic to Russia who switched sides and removed the insignia from their green uniforms – not infiltrated RU soldiers as many media sources claimed. No shots were fired in Russia takeover of Crimea. Based on history, Ukraine’s claim to Crimea as part of its ancestral territorial sovereignty is tenuous at best – and certainly not an issue worth spending tens of billions of dollars and starting World War III to resolve. As former Texas Rep. Ron Paul quipped in March 2014, "Why does the U.S. care which flag will be hoisted on a small piece of land thousands of miles away?"

  • Baud sees the stiffer than expected Ukrainian response to the Russian invasion being the same miscalculation the US made in Vietnam (which as noted above Kissinger now hypocritically criticizes Putin for making in Ukraine).This instinctive patriotism against foreign intervention and hostile actions also explains the Bush neocons’ unpreparedness for the indigenous insurgencies that arose post-invasion in Iraq and Afghanistan. Similarly, Baud notes that the West’s post 9/11 war on Islamic increased – rather than decreased – terror attacks in Europe. Similarly, the West’s sanctions against Russia is fostering the same resurgence of nationalism resurgence as occurred in these invaded homelands. Hopefully, both Putin and the war hawks in Washington and NATO will take note of the self-defeating effects of their belligerent and scornful foreign and military policies.

  • When asked, "What justification did Putin have from his viewpoint for launching the invasion?" Without passing judgment on Putin’s actions, Baud cites that in March 2021, President Zelensky issued a decree for Ukrainian troops to reconquer Crimea and the Donbass. This decree was consistent with an election campaign video made by Oleksiy Arestovych – Zelensky’s 2019 campaign manager and Zelensky’s current military advisor and spokesperson on the war. (Baud says this video is authentic.) Arestovych boasts, if Zelensky is elected president, UKR will start a war with Russia in the 2020-21 timeframe to take back Crimea and the Donbas. After defeating Russia, Arestovych says in the video, NATO will offer Ukraine membership implying a deal has been made. Arestovych then outlines amazingly accurate Ukraine and Russian battle plans for this planned war. This video suggests there was foreign election manipulation in 2019 to get a compliant Ukrainian president in office so the US/NATO could start a proxy war with Russia. If so, this would not be the first time the State Dept./CIA interfered in Ukrainian elections.

  • True to the video, Baud says 50,000 or so Ukrainian troops were moved to the southern part of the country in late 2021 to prepare for a spring offensive. The date of February 16, 2022 was set as the start date. Ukrainian shelling of the Donbas as documented by third party observers was increased 40-fold starting on February 11th. According to Baud, Ukraine anticipated the Russia’s military would intervene to support the indigenous pro-Russia militias in the Donbas who would be under assault once this offensive commenced. The Russia intervention was delayed at week – until February 24th – to allow Russia to go through a (questionable) legal maneuver make Russia’s intervention a Responsibility to Protect action under international law. This chronology explains why Biden was able to publicly boast in early February that he knew for sure "from good intelligence" that Putin would be launching a military operation in Ukraine and when it would occur. Despite this foreknowledge, the Biden administration did not endeavor to have Zelensky to call off the Ukrainian offensive in the Donbas. If true, the above portrayal of events calls into question whether Russia was truly an "unprovoked aggressor party" in starting this war as relentlessly portrayed in the MSM.

  • Baud sees NATO as an anachronistic institution having worked for this bureaucracy for five years. He says, "NATO’s Cold War mentality has survived the Cold War. It now justifies its existence by creating a confrontation with someone else." This is why NATO killed Russia’s post-Cold War "Partners for Peace" initiative and Russia’s bid to join NATO. Baud says, to justify its existence, NATO went out looking for wars to fight in the Balkans, Afghanistan, and Libya. The problem with NATO, Baud says, is that it’s too focused on advancing US interest which aren’t always Europe’s interest. The reluctance of certain NATO countries to ban Russia gas and oil imports is an example of such incongruence. Baud predicts the demise of NATO in the near future for this reason.

  • Baud offers a more rational and informed professional explanation of the Russian battle plan and efficacy of its military’s war effort to date than the TV generals and MSM pundits. In Russia’s initial foray into Ukraine on February 24th , it deployed 65 battalion battle groups to the Donbas region; and only 22 groups (i.e., less than 22,000 soldiers) around Kiev. (Baud says the Pentagon has confirmed these figures). According to Baud, the purpose of the secondary Kiev thrust was not to take the city (there never was any urban combat) but to faint an attack and pin down Ukrainian armor and mechanized groups west of the Dnieper River. This was done to keep the 100,000 or so Ukrainian troops in and around Kyiv from being able to reinforce the 50,000 or so Ukrainian troops in the Donbas when Russia’s major campaign was being waged. Rather than being a strategic and logistical blunder and major defeat caused by all sorts of imagined problems, Baud says the ploy by Russian war planners was "very clever" and successful.

  • Baud sees Russia making steady progress toward achieving its declared pre-war objectives at an acceptable pace and loss rate. Given the lack of progress on the diplomatic front, he thinks Russia may expand its original objectives and take all of Ukraine Black Sea coastline including Odessa before it concludes its combat operations.

  • Baud flat out says Zelensky is being bribed by the EU and US with promises of weapons in exchange for avoiding negotiations, not making any concessions, and not admitting battlefield defeats. He says the foreign weapons pouring in Ukraine from the West are mostly being destroyed as soon as they cross into the country. Ukraine’s rail and highway system has also decimated to disrupt their delivery to the frontlines. Thus, Baud says weapons being supplied by the West are "not effecting the warfighting and creating rapidly deteriorating situation." This state of affairs, he says, is getting thousands of soldiers on both sides needlessly killed. Baud sees the relationship between the UKR government and its backers in the US and NATO becoming more and more cynical. He doesn’t hold out much hope for a diplomatic solution given the grip the US and EU have on Zelensky and his entourage.

On this somber note, I’ll end this treatise with a final pertinent quote by Dr. Kissinger as the par excellence progenitor of US proxy wars. Zelensky should take to heart his warning to world leaders:

"Nixon should be told that it is probably an objective of Clifford to depose Thieu (South Vietnamese president Nguyen Van Thieu – ed.) before Nixon is inaugurated. Word should be gotten to Nixon that if Thieu meets the same fate as Diem, the word will go out to the nations of the world that it may be dangerous to be America’s enemy, but to be America’s friend is fatal.” – Henry Kissinger

Ronald Enzweiler is a Harvard MBA , MIT graduate, and US Air Force veteran who has lived, worked, and traveled extensively in the Greater Middle East, including working as an USAID contractor and US Foreign Service (limited) Officer in Iraq and Afghanistan from 2007 through 2014. He is retired and lives in California and Mexico with his wife Elena. He’s written a book critiquing US foreign and military policy titled, When Will We Ever Learn?, and has written other articles for Antiwar.com and the Libertarian Institute.

Author: Ronald Enzweiler

Mr. Enzweiler is a Harvard MBA , MIT graduate, and US Air Force veteran who has lived, worked, and traveled extensively in the Greater Middle East, including working as an USAID contractor and US Foreign Service (limited) Officer in Iraq and Afghanistan from 2007 through 2014. He is retired and lives in California and Mexico with his wife Elena. He’s written a book critiquing US foreign and military policy titled, When Will We Ever Learn?, and has written other articles for Antiwar.com and the Libertarian Institute.