"This is a multi-million dollar venture...to discredit Putin."
This post first appeared on Russia Insider
This interview originally appeared in German Economic News. Translated by Werner Schrimpf for Russia Insider.
Deutsche Wirtschafts Nachrichten: Mr. Cohen, you are “Professor Emeritus“ of Russian studies and policies in Princeton, political advisor to the U.S. government and member of the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR). Nevertheless U.S. main stream media are ignoring your opinion when it comes to assessing Russia. How come?
Stephen Cohen: President Bush invited me twice in the 1980s to Washington and Camp David to talk about Russia.
And concerning the Council on Foreign Relations? I am afraid you may have gotten the impression I would be in close touch with the U.S. elites which is definitely not the case. It is just the inner circle of the CFR who is representing the American elite and who has the power. Myself, I am just an ordinary member. In former times the objective of this organization was to get a balanced view of Russia but this has changed dramatically.
Meanwhile this organization is totally uninterested in Russia’s policy so I do not show up there any longer.
In the time frame between the 1970s and 1980s, partially in the 1990s, I had easy access to the mass media. But this ended during the 1990s and since the Putin era I hardly get invitations any longer. This was not only the case with me but with many American citizens who are opposing the current US foreign policy. We have been banned by the mass media.
Deutsche Wirtschafts Nachrichten: According to your opinion what were the major defects of western policy after the collapse of the Soviet Union?
Stephen Cohen: I think that the current disaster in the Ukraine and the fall back to a new Cold War can be traced back to the 1990s in Washington. What were the biggest flaws? First, a mentality of final victory shown by both parties represented in the U.S. congress. They were convinced that the post Soviet Russia would be an obedient supplicant to the U.S. and the idea was that Russia would carry out all reforms requested by the United States.
The complete show was to have been run by the IWF, the World Bank and our ally Boris Yeltsin.
The second flaw was NATOs expansion toward Russian borders. The guys who are pushing this concept are stating this is all quite reasonable and they have problems understanding Russia’s dislike.
This is absolutely stupid. Just imagine a Russian military pact which arrives at the U.S. borders in Mexico or Canada. Any U.S. president not declaring war within a second in this case would be immediately removed from office.
Deutsche Wirtschafts Nachrichten: …although at the turn of the millennium it seemed that there would arise some kind of detente between Russia and the U.S….
Stephen Cohen: Correct. After the assault on the twin towers Putin tried to support the US in their war against terror and the Taliban. But in a countermove George Bush and the US unilaterally terminated the Anti-Ballistic-Missile Treaty (ABM-treaty) which was in place to limit the deployment of these systems. This step was regarded as a broken promise or even as a betrayal, from a Russian perspective.
The ABM-treaty is a basic element of international nuclear security and a key element of Russia’s security policy. To make things worse Bush pushed NATO’s expansion further to the Baltic nations. And to escalate even more, Bush tried to absorb Ukraine and Georgia into NATO which was finally vetoed by France and Germany. The U.S. crossed Russia’s red line in Georgia and a proxy war followed. In 2013 the red line was crossed once again by the US in Ukraine and today we are facing the most severe crisis since Cuba 1962.
Deutsche Wirtschafts Nachrichten: The EU-association agreement is widely seen as the catalyst for the Ukraine crisis. The objective of this agreement was a closer tie of Ukraine to the West. Why was this agreement that dangerous?
Stephen Cohen: This agreement contained rules and regulations concerning trade relations and travel and visa terms. This sounds nice and cozy at a first glance. But there were also military related clauses in this agreement, which in fact forced Ukraine to subordinate to EU’s and NATO’s security and military policy, and would have transformed Ukraine into a NATO ally against Russia. Unmentionable this is a clear and dangerous provocation against Russia. This scenario was never adequately explained to the public in western main stream media.
Deutsche Wirtschafts Nachrichten: Was Russia not involved and integrated in these negotiations to the EU-agreement?
Stephen Cohen: When the issue of an EU association agreement came up middle of 2012 the Kremlin believed that this might be positive for all parties. In those days Putin was elaborating the characteristics of a Eurasian economic union and he suggested that the agreement should be trilateral including Ukraine and the EU on the one hand and Russia and the EU on the other hand.
For many centuries Ukraine and Russia maintained intense economic relations. Having this fact in mind, Putin thought the more trade and production so much the better and suggested to integrate Russia in this agreement. But the EU rejected and confronted Ukraine with a tough ultimatum: Either EU or Russia! They violated a country with close historical connections to Russia in terms of culture, politics and economics to exclusively team up with the EU and to exclude Russia. For sure the result would have been a disaster.
Deutsche Wirtschafts Nachrichten: What is the reason for this EU boycott against an agreement with Russia?
Stephen Cohen: Well, most likely a mixture of foolishness and malignity. When Janukowitsch became aware that this agreement would destroy billions of dollars in trade with Russia and gain just a few millions in return from the EU, he hesitated with his signature and asked for more time.
No rational Ukrainian politician without bias would have been prepared to sign this type of an agreement. But the EU wanted to close the deal and put pressure on Yanukovych and issued a final ultimatum – which was criticized by Putin later on.
Deutsche Wirtschafts Nachrichten: George Friedman, boss of the U.S. think tank Stratfor, just recently stated that one of the major objectives of US foreign policy is the prevention of any potential German-Russia alliance. Does this ideology influence the current US policy towards Ukraine?
Stephen Cohen: Officially the US did not have a role in the game for Ukraine but behind the scenes the US controlled everything.
NATO and the IWF were involved and both organizations were orchestrated by the US. A trilateral agreement between Russia, EU and Ukraine was not in the interest of US foreign policy. It is difficult to judge whether this tactic is part of a bigger plan like George stated. The issue with George is his strong connections to the CIA and he is assuming a high degree of brains and strategic thinking with western politicians. If we asked tomorrow our US congressmen if the statement is true whether the main objective of US foreign policy is to disturb any alliance among Russia and core Europe, most of them would not know what we are talking about.
If we, however, would limit the addressees of this question to a small circle of well educated decision makers in Washington George could probably be right.
Deutsche Wirtschafts Nachrichten: Is there any historic evidence for Friedman's theory?
Stephen Cohen: In my mind Russia’s relations to the US differ completely to those during the Cold War. Russia’s interests with the US are limited to issues of nuclear security and the rules and regulations of nuclear weapons.
Anything else Russia will receive either from Berlin or Beijing. Depending on the further course of the Ukraine crisis – I am quite pessimistic here – we could reach a stage where Russia will mainly focus on its relations to China and Germany. In my mind this would be a positive impact for global security. Europe has to develop its sovereign foreign policy which must be independent from the US, but nevertheless should not be directed against the US. The current crisis could be the trigger to some sort of separation of Europe from the US.
Deutsche Wirtschafts Nachrichten: Would you share the opinion that Russia just reacted but did not act during the Ukraine crisis? Putin’s decision to affiliate Crimea to Russia – was it justified?
Stephen Cohen: Putin‘s decision was a reaction to the events starting in February 2014 in Kiev. George Friedman called those activities “a coup” and the Russians share his view.
The political elite of Russia recognized a potential threat to the Crimea and the Russian navy base located there. Furthermore the rhetoric of the new regime against native Russians proved to be aggressive and menacing.
So Putin had to take decisions. Later on he explained that up to this crisis the affiliation of the Crimea was never an issue for Russia and I would trust his statements. To take action was forced on him by external events and this demonstrates quite clearly that he was the reacting part and not the aggressor in this game.
Deutsche Wirtschafts Nachrichten: Western main stream media presented Putin as the bad guy who is to blame for the crisis. How would you describe the western image of Putin?
Stephen Cohen: When it became obvious that Putin followed his own ideas and concepts and was not just Washington’s puppet – this was clear from the Chodorkowski case at the latest – demonizing Putin gathered strength in US media.
The creators of the anti-Putin-cult were worried about their various stakes and interests in Russia when watching Putin’s rise.
But they did not really understand Putin’s first and prior mission and this was nothing less than to prevent the fall of Russia. Russia saw itself at the eve of political, economic and geographic destruction and Putin’s mission was to recreate Russian sovereignty.
During the 2007 Munich security conference he argued to the Western elite: “Since the breakdown of the former Soviet Union the relations between Russia and the West look like a one-way street.
We made concessions but the West ignored our position. But now this era of unilateral concessions is over!”
Following this announcement Putin was confronted with absurd accusations and was blamed for all kind of crimes – starting with the assassination of journalist Anna Politkowskaja and ending with the murder of Ex-FSB agent Andrey Litwinenko. The official language was now that every occurrence disturbing the relations between Russia and the United States was caused by Putin. The Ukraine crisis was no longer an issue which dealt with Russia but it was a Putin thing. Media reported on “Putin’s invasion” and “Putin’s aggression” – a real Putinphobia broke out.
Deutsche Wirtschafts Nachrichten: Who is the mastermind behind the scenes?
Stephen Cohen: The slander is fueled by organizations which have a high interest in reloading a Cold War with Russia.
It is a multi-million dollar venture feeding the main stream media with stuff in order to discredit Putin.
Pesky Hillary Clinton compared Putin with Adolf Hitler and labeled him as a person without a soul. Obama called him a bully who is permanently looking for trouble. Never in my life before have I experienced that any other Russian statesman had been vilified like Putin. Not even in the darkest times of the Cold War. This is very dangerous.
Stephen F. Cohen worked as a professor for Russian Sciences at Princeton University and New York University.
He is contributing to the U.S. journal “The Nation” and has written many books on Russia, i.e. “Failed Crusade: America and the Tragedy of Post-Communist Russia”.
He is co-founder of the “American Committee for East-West-Accord”. Former U.S. senators, ambassadors and political advisors are members in this organization which advocates for a peaceful exchange of views and opinions with Russia. They demand the revitalization of cooperation of both countries in the NATO-Russia-council and to strengthen the efforts for nuclear disarmament.
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