Time to check in again with Stephen F. Cohen, the NYU prof (and hubby of limo-lefty Nation publisher Katrina van den Heuvel) who is America’s most prominent Kremlinologist – and Vladimir Putin’s most ardent and assiduous champion in the U.S.
Over the last few months, we’ve spent a good deal of time probing Cohen’s reprehensible views. One example: instead of denouncing Russia’s antigay laws, Cohen has condemned Western gays for complaining about them. Surely Cohen, a card-carrying member of the leftist establishment, is a fan of the Freedom Riders who went to the American South to march for black civil rights; surely he supported folks who traveled to South Africa to protest apartheid; and without a doubt, like the rest of the Nation gang, he cheers Westerners who go to Gaza to savage Israel. But Western gays calling for gay rights in Russia? “How is that our concern?” Cohen asked a Newsweek interviewer, his irritation palpable. “Why is it America’s job to go over there and sort out the gay problem when 85 percent of Russians think they should have no rights?”
The last time we looked in on Cohen, back in November, he was busy co-founding a pro-Russia propaganda scam called the American Committee for East-West Accord. Think of it as a 21st-century version of all those Cold War-era international “peace organizations” and “peace congresses” that were actually Soviet fronts and you’ll get the idea. Cohen is, after all, a guy who, in Soviet days, wasn’t just a Kremlin expert but a Kremlin fan, the sort of leftist who blamed the downside of Soviet life on Stalin (not Communism itself, which he defended) and blamed the Cold War on America.
So what’s the latest with Cohen? In a February interview with his favorite TV channel, Putin’s own RT America (formerly Russia Today), Cohen went on a rant about NATO. Hardly the first time, to be sure. But this interview – conducted by Ed Schultz, the former MSNBC hack who’s now on Putin’s payroll – was particularly worth listening to, given that it provided a tidy summing-up of Cohen’s thinking on the topic. Sample: “NATO – that means Washington and that means Obama administration – has decided to quadruple its military forces on Russia’s borders or near Russia’s borders.” This equation of NATO with the U.S. speaks volumes: for him, NATO isn’t a group of sovereign nations that have pulled together in the cause of common defense; it’s an instrument of American imperialism, period.
“The last time there was this kind of Western hostile military force on Russia’s borders,” complained Cohen, “is when the Nazis invaded Russia in 1941.” Yes, there it was: a comparison of NATO to the Nazis. Cohen went on: “During the 40-year Cold War there was this vast buffer zone that ran from the Soviet borders all the way to Berlin. There were no NATO or American troops there. So this is a very radical departure on the part of the administration.” Some euphemism: “buffer zone”! Of course, Cohen’s referring to the countries of Eastern Europe that the Red Army overran at the end of World War II and turned into Communist satellites. Those countries were no “buffer zone”; they were captive nations, their people unfree, their governments Kremlin puppets. When Hungary tried to break away in 1956, it was invaded by Soviet tanks. Ditto Czechoslovakia in 1968.
Today, those countries are free. All of them, at the first opportunity, rushed to join NATO – not, as Cohen implies, because they wanted to subject themselves to another imperial master, but because they wanted to protect their freedom in the face of what they recognized as the continued Kremlin threat. Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania, which had been absorbed into the USSR during World War II and which gained their independence after it dissolved, joined NATO too. And Putin’s actions against Georgia in 2008, plus his later intervention in Ukraine and annexation of Crimea, made it clear that these nations’ concerns were well-founded.
Not in Cohen’s world, however. “Russia is not threatening any country on its border,” he told Schultz. Yes, he said, there is a threat – but it’s coming from the U.S., which had sparked “a new Cold War” beginning with “the proxy American-Russian war in the former Soviet Republic of Georgia in 2008.” Yes, Cohen actually rewrote Russia’s bullying of Georgia into a “proxy…war” with the U.S. And he went on to call NATO activity “very dangerous and reckless” because under “Russian doctrine,” born of “their weakness after the end of the Soviet Union,” the Kremlin has committed itself to “use tactical nuclear weapons” in response to any threat by “overwhelming conventional force.” So we should view Putin’s apparent readiness to use nukes – yes, nukes – as a legitimate response to the “threat” represented by NATO defense preparations.
In Cohen-land, in short, reality is turned upside down: it’s not Russia that’s rattling sabers at its neighbors and former vassals, thus compelling them to participate in a mutual-defense pact; it’s the U.S. that’s brandishing the dogs of war in the form of countries that, Cohen would have us believe, are not free and sovereign nations but American vassals – thus compelling Putin to risk playing the nuclear card. Got that? Of course you do. Believe it? Of course you don’t. Only among the type of people who read the Nation does such twisted nonsense pass muster as legitimate geopolitical analysis.