In 1814-15, the Congress of Vienna laid the foundations of the new European order. The event concluded a quarter century of turmoil, which started with the French Revolution in 1789 and ended with Napoleon’s final defeat at Waterloo. The congress system was based on the proceeding’s Final Act, a monumental diplomatic instrument containing all the agreements, of which—significantly—France was a signatory.
The culprit was chastised but not excluded from the emerging security architecture. France’s revolutionary ideology in the 1790s and Napoleon’s ambition in the early 1800s were arguably more disruptive to Europe’s peace than any event since the Reformation, three centuries earlier. Nevertheless, the victorious powers decided, with commendable prudence, that no lasting peace was likely if the greatest power of the time were excluded from the deliberations and if that power had no stake in the creation of a new order.
The resulting edifice lasted, with some adjustments and five brief wars, until July 1914. The Long Nineteenth Century provided the Old Continent with 99 years of unprecedented flourishing in all fields of human endeavor. It was truly a golden age of European civilization.
It ended in a nightmare, heralded by the guns of August 1914, with the lamps going out all over Europe. In November 1918, those guns finally fell silent, ending four-plus years of an unprecedented carnage, which killed a generation and crippled a refined, uniquely creative civilization. Europe’s recovery and its chances of avoiding yet another round of bloodletting were ruined at the Paris Peace Conference, which opened in January 1919.
Far from being a “conference,” however, Versailles was a victors’ convention from which the losers—most prominently Germany—were excluded. The regime change in Berlin did not save the Germans from being presented, five months later, with what most of them felt was a French-inspired, vindictive diktat. It entailed the loss of territories—mostly contrary to the Allies’ self-proclaimed principle of self-determination—and, even more painful, the imposition of the “war guilt clause,” which blamed Germany solely and directly for the outbreak of hostilities and thereby made it responsible for enormous financial reparations.
The humbling of Europe’s most powerful nation was not accompanied, however, by any significant diminution of its economic or demographic potential. The result was disastrous, and predictable. A resentful, revanchist Germany with a fanatic at its helm had the means and the will to destroy the order it regarded as illegitimate. Another European war inevitably followed and soon became global. It ended with two external powers emerging as the arbiters of Europe’s destiny.
In the fourth month of Russia’s “special military operation” in Ukraine, it seems evident that Vladimir Putin cannot win, at least not in the sense of his stated objectives of “denazification”—by which he meant regime change in Kiev—and “demilitarization,” (i.e., annihilation of the Armed Forces of Ukraine). At the same time, it is clear that Russia—regardless of Putin’s political and personal fortunes in the weeks and months to come—will not agree to end the war on humiliating terms that would entail its permanent abdication of great-power status. Faced with such a prospect, the leadership in the Kremlin, even a post-Putinist one, would rather raise the odds.
Europe, or that major part of it that belongs to the political West—NATO and the EU—faces a choice of historical magnitude. Will it opt for the Viennese 1815 formula of treating the wayward power, for all its rashness, as a permanent and necessary player in the postwar European order? Or will it succumb to the pressure from Washington—reinforced by the globalist nomenklatura in Brussels—to seek the outcome based on Versailles 1919, which would see Russia not only humbled but permanently crippled?
These two options were presented in unusually clear terms at the World Economic Forum in Davos on May 24 by two influential figures: the 99-year-old former U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger and Ursula von der Leyen, who has been the unelected president of the European Commission—the EU de facto government—since the end of 2019.
Kissinger said that Ukraine should cede territory to Russia to help end the conflict. He urged the U.S. and the West not to seek a humiliating defeat for Russia in Ukraine as it could worsen Europe’s long-term stability. Reminding his audience that “Russia has been an essential part of Europe for 400 years now … in some cases as a guarantor or instrument with which to restore the European balance,” and asking them not to be swept up “in the mood of the moment,” Kissinger urged the West to convince Ukraine to accept a negotiated agreement. In addition, he stressed that Russia should not be forced into a permanent alliance with China.
Pursuing the war for months on end, Kissinger said, “would not be about the freedom of Ukraine, but a new war against Russia itself.” Implicitly, he suggested a peace treaty that would entail the acceptance of Russia’s 2014 annexation of Crimea and its de facto control of the Donbas, made up of the eastern regions of Luhansk and Donetsk. Kissinger’s position on Ukraine, which reflects prudent realism, is reminiscent of the diplomacy of Prince Klemens von Metternich, the subject of Kissinger’s doctoral thesis and the mastermind behind the Congress of Vienna system.
Ursula von der Leyen, by contrast, told global leaders in Davos that the war is not only “a matter of Ukraine’s survival” or “an issue of European security” but also “a task for the entire global community.” While condemning Putin’s “destructive fury,” she allowed the possibility that Russia could one day recover its place in Europe, but only if it “finds its way back to democracy, the rule of law and respect for the international rules-based order.” In other words, Russia must establish a Western-style regime at home and accept Western dominance abroad.
Von der Leyen’s position was supported by none other than George Soros, the currency speculator extraordinaire. He told the Forum that victory in the war against Putin’s Russia was necessary to “save civilization” and urged the West to provide Ukraine with everything it needs to prevail. “We [the West] must mobilize all our resources in order to end the war as soon as possible,” Soros went on, adding that “a ceasefire is unattainable, because he [Putin] cannot be trusted.”
It was ironic to see the man who has done more than any single living person to destroy civilization, pleading for an all-out war against Russia, a war that would likely destroy the planet, in order to “save civilization.” A rational person should be instinctively inclined to reject any word of advice by the philanthropist from hell or by the European Union’s top bureaucrat. They are both in cahoots with the hegemonic clique that devises American foreign policy, and which uses Joe Biden as its façade. Thanks to the war in Ukraine, this clique has managed to bring Europe under their control more firmly than at any time during the Cold War.
The EU apparat and the globalist visionaries like Soros also support Europe’s suicidal immigration policy, which, if continued, will lead to demographic replacement of the European nations with the teeming multitudes from the other side of the Mediterranean. That is a pleasing prospect to the Davos elite, and canceling Russia as the last major bastion of non-postmodernized Europe is therefore mandatory.
The Russophobia embodied by von der Leyen and Soros goes way beyond condemning Putin’s regime; they loathe all things Russian. Theirs is a remarkable mixture of hostility and repulsion that is primarily culturally motivated rather than geopolitically driven. If Russia continues to be treated as the ultimate Other, to be excluded from the European security architecture and treated as an Asiatic pariah, Europe’s demise will be accelerated, and its recovery difficult to envisage. That much is clear to Hungary’s Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, a staunch defender of all things truly European. Putin’s Ukraine blunder notwithstanding, Orbán sees in Russia a natural ally in his struggle to preserve the authenticity of his nation, its traditions, and its social and state institutions against the twin threats of the EU machine in Brussels and the U.S. foreign policy community in Washington, D.C.
The Orbánite strategic vision corresponds to realist thinkers who know that there are no ideal solutions in the Hobbesian world of politics among nations. Realists recognize that Europe cannot and will not be peaceful and stable if one of its major powers is treated with studied contempt or outright hostility. They also understand that imposing regime change on Russia is inherently dangerous. If Putin falls and successors inside the Kremlin are in disarray, the possibility of an all-out nuclear war between Russia and the U.S. will be greater than at any time since the Cuban Missile Crisis of October 1962. The political West may decide to follow the path recommended by von der Leyen and Soros, but such a path is not in the European interest, and the world would surely come to regret the consequences as well.
Today’s Russia remains a key player in the European state system. It has legitimate security interests, which have not lost their validity despite Putin’s blunders. A lasting peace needs to be built on this fact. The alternative is to treat Russia in 2022 the way Germany was treated in 1919, most probably with similarly tragic long-term consequences.
It is in the American interest to reestablish and maintain a global balance of power that will keep America and its key partners safe with the least possible risk and cost. The stability of Europe and the world demands that the U.S. government understand and accept that other major powers, Russia included, have rights and interests that need to be respected in perpetuity. As Kissinger said at Davos, “The ideal way out would be the creation of Ukraine as a neutral state, as a bridge between Russia and Europe.” Had that much been accepted by the political West before Feb. 24, there would have been no war.
Image: Ursula von der Leyen, President of the European Commission, speaks at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, Tuesday, May 24. (Markus Schreiber / Associated Press)