Is the veteran US diplomat Henry Kissinger working to secure a rapprochement between the US and Moscow by pushing for an end to sanctions in exchange for the removal of Russian troops from eastern Ukraine?
A flurry of reports suggest the 93-year-old diplomat is positioning himself as a intermediary between Vladimir Putin and President-elect Donald Trump. He has publicly praised Mr Trump, and traveled to Trump Tower in New York to offer his counsel built on decades of lobbying and diplomacy.
A report in the German tabloid Der Bild headlined ‘Kissinger to prevent new Cold War’, claimed the former envoy was working towards a new relationship with Russia.
This would involve the US accepting that Crimea, a Ukrainian territory that Russia seized in March 2014, now belongs to Moscow. In exchange, Russia would remove troops and military supplies to rebels in eastern Ukraine which have fighting a war against the Ukrainian government.
The report did not provide details, but claimed that “sources” said that Mr Kissinger was drawing up a “master plan” for Ukraine.
Last week, Politico said Mr Kissinger was one of the few Americans to meet frequently with Mr Putin, along with movie star Steven Seagal and ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson, Mr Trump’s pick for the next secretary of state.
“The 93-year-old Kissinger is positioning himself as a potential intermediary - meeting with the president-elect in private and flattering him in public,” it said.
“Like Trump, Kissinger has also cast doubt on intelligence agencies’ conclusion that Russia sought to sway the election in Trump's favor, telling a recent interviewer ‘They were hacking, but the use they allegedly made of this hacking eludes me’.”
Mr Trump’s views on Russia’s annexation of Crimea appeared to change during the course of the election campaign - reportedly as a result of the influence of former campaign manager Paul Manafort, who has worked for Ukraine’s deposed pro-Russian president. Inquiries to Mr Kissinger's lobbying firm in New York were not immediately answered on Tueday.
After Russia annexed Crimea in 2014, Mr Trump voiced opposition and said it “should never have happened.”
However, in August he told one US interviewer: “The people of Crimea, from what I’ve heard, would rather be with Russia than where they were.”
Politico said that Mr Kissinger, who levied as secretary of state to presidents Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford, has long argued that promoting a greater balance of power between the US and Russia would improve global stability.
Yet skeptics fear Mr Kissinger, who was behind the massive, secret US bombing campaigns in Indo-China in the late 1960s and 1970s, risks rewarding Russia despite its controversial role in events such as the Syrian civil war, where Mr Putin has sided with Syrian dictator Bashar Assad.
“I think Kissinger is preparing a diplomatic offensive,” Marcel Van Herpen, a Russia specialist directs the Cicero Foundation, a Dutch think tank, told the website.
“He’s a realist. The most important thing for him is international equilibrium, and there’s no talk of human rights or democracy.”
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