Debunking the Putin Panic with Stephen F. Cohen

Yves here. Jerri-Lynn found this Real News Network interview, which is oddly not easy to locate on its site, but encouragingly, it has gotten a good level of views on YouTube.

AARON MATE: It’s The Real News. I’m Aaron Mate. This is part two with Stephen Cohen, professor emeritus of Russian studies at New York University and Princeton. In part one we talked about the uproar over the Trump-Putin summit, and Trump’s comments about the U.S. intelligence community and about cooperation with Russia. Now in part two we’re going to get to some of the main talking points that have been pervasive throughout corporate media, talking about the stated reasons for why pundits and politicians say they are opposed to Trump sitting down with Putin.

So let me start with Jon Meacham. He is a historian. And speaking to CNN, he worried that Trump, with his comments about NATO calling on the alliance to pay more, and calling into question, he worried about the possibility that Trump won’t come to the aid of Baltic states in the event that Russia invades.

JON MEACHAM: And what worries me most is the known unknown, as Donald Rumsfeld might put it, of what happens next. Let’s say Putin- just look at this whole week of the last five, six days in total. What happens if Putin launches military action against, say, the Baltics? What, what is it that President Trump, what about his comments that NATO suggest thar he would follow an invocation of Article 5 and actually project American force in defense of the values that not only do we have an intellectual and moral assent to, but a contractual one, a treaty one. I think that’s the great question going forward.

AARON MATE: OK. So that’s Jon Meacham speaking to CNN. So, Professor Cohen, putting aside what he said there about our intellectual values and strong tradition, just on the issue of Trump, of Putin posing a potential threat and possibly invading the Baltics, is that a realistic possibility?

STEPHEN COHEN: So, I’m not sure what you’re asking me about. The folly of NATO expansion? The fact that every president in my memory has asked the Europeans to pay more? But can we be real? Can we be real? The only country that’s attacked that region of Europe militarily since the end of the Soviet Union was the United States of America. As I recall, we bombed Serbia, a, I say this so people understand, a traditional Christian country, under Bill Clinton, bombed Serbia for about 80 days. There is no evidence that Russia has ever bombed a European country.

You tell me, Aaron. You must be a smart guy, because you got your own television show. Why would Putin want to launch a military attack and occupy the Baltics? So he has to pay the pensions there? Which he’s having a hard time already paying in Russia, and therefore has had to raise the pension age, and thereby lost 10 percentage points of popularity in two weeks? Why in the world can we, can we simply become rational people. Why in the world would Russia want to attack and occupy Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia? The only reason I can think of is that many, many of my friends love to take their summer vacations there. And maybe some crazy person thinks that if we occupy it, vacations will be cheaper. It’s crazy. It’s beyond crazy. It’s a kind-.

AARON MATE: Professor Cohen, if you were on CNN right now I imagine that the anchor would say to you, well, okay, but one could say the same thing about Georgia in 2008. Why did Russia attack Georgia then?

STEPHEN COHEN: I’m not aware that Russia attacked Georgia. The European Commission, if you’re talking about the 2008 war, the European Commission, investigating what happened, found that Georgia, which was backed by the United States, fighting with an American-built army under the control of the, shall we say, slightly unpredictable Georgian president then, Saakashvili, that he began the war by firing on Russian enclaves. And the Kremlin, which by the way was not occupied by Putin, but by Michael McFaul and Obama’s best friend and reset partner then-president Dmitry Medvedev, did what any Kremlin leader, what any leader in any country would have had to do: it reacted. It sent troops across the border through the tunnel, and drove the Georgian forces out of what essentially were kind of Russian protectorate areas of Georgia.

So that- Russia didn’t begin that war. And it didn’t begin the one in Ukraine, either. We did that by [continents], the overthrow of the Ukrainian president in [20]14 after President Obama told Putin that he would not permit that to happen. And I think it happened within 36 hours. The Russians, like them or not, feel that they have been lied to and betrayed. They use this word, predatl’stvo, betrayal, about American policy toward Russia ever since 1991, when it wasn’t just President George Bush, all the documents have been published by the National Security Archive in Washington, all the leaders of the main Western powers promised the Soviet Union that under Gorbachev, if Gorbachev would allow a reunited Germany to be NATO, NATO would not, in the famous expression, move two inches to the east.

Now NATO is sitting on Russia’s borders from the Baltic to Ukraine. So Russians aren’t fools, and they’re good-hearted, but they become resentful. They’re worried about being attacked by the United States. In fact, you read and hear in the Russian media daily, we are under attack by the United States. And this is a lot more real and meaningful than this crap that is being put out that Russia somehow attacked us in 2016. I must have been sleeping. I didn’t see Pearl Harbor or 9/11 and 2016. This is reckless, dangerous, warmongering talk. It needs to stop. Russia has a better case for saying they’ve been attacked by us since 1991. We put our military alliance on the front door. Maybe it’s not an attack, but it looks like one, feels like one. Could be one.

AARON MATE: OK. And in a moment I want to speak to you more about Ukraine, because we’ve heard Crimea invoked a lot in the criticism of Putin of late. But first I want to actually to ask you about a domestic issue. This one is it’s widely held that Putin is responsible for the killing of journalists and opposition activists who oppose him. And on this front I want to play for you a clip of Joe Cirincione. He is the head of the Ploughshares Fund. And this is what he said this week in an appearance on Democracy Now!.

JOE CIRINCIONE:Both of these men are dangerous. Both of these men oppress basic human rights, basic freedoms. Both of them think the press are the enemy of the people. Putin goes further. He kills journalists. He has them assassinated on the streets of Moscow.

Donald Trump does not go that far yet. But I think what Putin is doing is using the president of the United States to project his rule, to increase his power, to carry out his agenda in Syria, with Europe, et cetera, and that Trump is acquiescing to that for reasons that are not yet clear.

AARON MATE: That’s Joe Cirincione.

STEPHEN COHEN:  I know him well. It’s worse than that. It’s worse than that.

AARON MATE:Well Yes. There’s two issues here, Professor Cohen. One is the state of the crackdown on press freedoms in Russia, which I’m sure you would say is very much alive, and is a strong part of the Russian system. But let’s first address this widely-held view that Putin is responsible for killing journalists who are critical of him.

STEPHEN COHEN:I know I’m supposed to follow your lead, but I think you’re skipping over a major point. How is it that Joe, who was once one of our most eminent and influential, eloquent opponents of nuclear arms race, who was prepared to have the president of the United States negotiate with every Soviet communist leader, including those who had a lot of blood on their hands, now decide that Putin kills everybody and he’s not a worthy partner? What happened to Joe?

I’ll tell you what happened to him. Trump. Trump has driven once-sensible people completely crazy. Moreover, Joe knows absolutely nothing about internal Russian politics, and he ought to follow my rule. When I don’t know something about something, I say I don’t know. But what he just said is ludicrous. And the sad part is-.

AARON MATE: But it’s widely held. If it’s ludicrous-. But widely held, yeah.

STEPHEN COHEN: Well, the point is that once distinguished and important spokespeople for rightful causes, like ending a nuclear arms race, have been degraded, or degraded themselves by saying things like he said to the point that they’re of utility today only to the proponents of a new nuclear arms race. And he’s not alone. Somebody called it Trump derangement syndrome. I’m not a psychiatrist, but it’s a widespread mania across our land. And when good people succumb to it, we are all endangered.

AARON MATE: But many people would be surprised to hear that, because again, the stories that we get, and there are human rights reports, and it’s just sort of taken as a given fact that Putin is responsible for killing journalists. So if that’s ludicrous, if you can explain why you think that is.

STEPHEN COHEN: Well, I got this big problem which seems to afflict very few people in public life anymore. I live by facts. I’m like my doctor, who told me not long ago I had to have minor surgery for a problem I didn’t even know I had. And I said, I’m not going to do it. Show me the facts. And he did. I had the minor surgery. Journalists no longer seem to care about facts. They repeat tabloid rumors. Putin kills everybody.

All I can tell you is this. I have never seen any evidence whatsoever, and I’ve been- I knew some of the people who were killed. Anna Politkovskaya, the famous journalist for Novaya Gazeta was the first, I think, who was- Putin was accused of killing. I knew her well. She was right here, in this apartment. Look behind me, right here. She was here with my wife, Katrina vanden Huevel. I wouldn’t say we were close friends, but we were associates in Moscow, and we were social friends. And I mourn her assassination today. But I will tell you this, that neither her editors at that newspaper, nor her family, her surviving sons, think Putin had anything to do with the killing. No evidence has ever been presented. Only media kangaroo courts that Putin was involved in these high-profile assassinations, two of the most famous being this guy Litvinenko by polonium in London, about the time Anna was killed, and more recently Boris Netsov, whom, it’s always said, was walking within view of the Kremlin when he was shot. Well, you could see the Kremlin from miles away. I don’t know what within the view- unless they think Putin was, you know, watching it through binoculars. There is no evidence that Putin ever ordered the killing of anybody outside his capacity as commander in chief. No evidence.

Now, did he? But we live, Aaron, and I hope the folks who watch us remember this. Every professional person, every decent person lives or malpractices based on verified facts. You go down the wrong way on a one-way street, you might get killed. You take some medication that’s not prescribed for you, you might die. You pursue foreign policies based on fiction, you’re likely to get in war. And all these journalists, from the New York Times to the Washington Post, from MSNBC to CNN who churn out daily these allegations that Putin kills people are disgracing themselves. I will give you one fact. Wait. One fact, and you could look it up, as Casey Stengel used to say. He was a baseball manager, in case you don’t know.

There’s an organization called the Committee to Protect American Journalists. It’s kind of iconic. It does good things, it says unwise things. Go on its website and look at the number of Russian journalists killed since 1991, since the end of the Soviet Union, under two leaders. Boris Yeltsin, whom we dearly loved and still mourn, and Putin, whom we hate. Last time I looked, the numbers may have changed, more were killed under Yeltsin than under Putin. Did Putin kill those in the 1990s?

So you should ask me, why did they die, then? And I can tell you the main reason. Corrupt business. Mafia-like business in Russia. Just like happened in the United States during our primitive accumulation days. Profit seekers killed rivals. Killed them dead in the streets. Killed them as demonstrations, as demonstrative acts. The only thing you could say about Putin is that he might have created an atmosphere that abets that sort of thing. To which I would say, maybe, but originally it was created with the oligarchical class under Boris Yeltsin, who remains for us the most beloved Russian leader in history. So that’s the long and the short of it. Go look at the listing on the Committee to Protect Journalists.

AARON MATE: OK. So, following up on that, to what extent- and this gets a bit into history, which you’ve covered extensively in your writings. To what extent are we here in the West responsible for the creation of that Russian oligarchal class that you mentioned? But also, what is Putin’s relationship to it now, today? Does he abet it? Is he entrenched in it? We hear, often, talk of Putin possibly being the richest person in the world as a result of his entanglement with the very corruption of Russia you’re speaking about. So both our role in creating that problem in Russia, but then also Putin’s role now in terms of his relationship to it.

STEPHEN COHEN: I’m going to give you a quick, truncated, scholarly, historical perspective on this. But this is what people should begin with when they think about Vladimir Putin and his 18 years in power. Putin came to power almost accidentally in 2000. He inherited a country whose state had collapsed twice in the 20th century. You’ve got to think about that. How many states have collapsed that you know of once? But the Russian state, Russian statehood, had collapsed once in 1917 during the revolution, and again in 1991 when the Soviet Union ended. The country was in ruination; 75 percent of the people were in poverty.

Putin said- and this obsesses him. If you want to know what obsesses Putin, it’s the word ‘sovereignty.’ Russia lost its sovereignty- political, foreign policy, security, financial- in the 1990s. Putin saw his mission, as I read him, and I try to read him as a biographer. He says a lot, to regain Russia’s sovereignty, which meant to make the country whole again at home, to rescue its people, and to protect its defenses. That’s been his mission. Has it been more than that? Maybe. But everything he’s done, as I see it, has followed that concept of his role in history. And he’s done pretty well.

Now, I can give you all Putin’s minuses very easily. I would not care for him to be my president. But let me tell you one other thing that’s important. You evaluate nations within their own history, not within ours. If you asked me if Putin is a democrat, and I will answer you two ways. He thinks he has. And compared to what? Compared to the leader of Egypt? Yeah, he is a democrat. Compared to the rulers of our pals in the Gulf states, he is a democrat. Compared to Bill Clinton? No, he’s not a Democrat. I mean, Russia-. Countries are on their own historical clock. And you have to judge Putin in terms of his predecessors. So people think Putin is a horrible leader. Did you prefer Brezhnev? Did you prefer Stalin? Did you prefer Andropov? Compared to what? Please tell me, compared to what.

And by the way, that’s how that’s how Russians-. You want to know why he’s so popular in Russia? Because Russians judge him in the context of their own what they call zhivaya istoriya, living history; what we call autobiography. In terms of their own lives, he looks pretty darn good. They complain out him. We sit in the kitchen and they bitch about Putin all the time. But they don’t want him to go away.

AARON MATE: All right. Well, on that front, we’re going to wrap this up there. Stephen Cohen, professor emeritus of Russian studies at New York University and Princeton. His books include “Failed Crusade: America and the Tragedy of Post-Soviet Russia,” and “Soviet Fates and Lost Alternatives: From Stalinism to the New Cold War.” Professor Cohen, thank you.

STEPHEN COHEN: You forgot one book.

AARON MATE: I did not say I was reading your, your complete bibliography.

STEPHEN COHEN: It’s called-. It’s called “Confessions of a Holy Fool.”

AARON MATE: Is that true? Or are you making a joke.

STEPHEN COHEN: Somewhere in between. [Thank you, Aaron.]

AARON MATE: Professor Cohen, thank you. And thank you for joining us on The Real News.

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  1. Disturbed Voter

    Real politik. Don’t bring a knife to a gun fight. Don’t start fights in the first place. The idea that American leadership is any better than mid-Victorian imperialism, is laughable.

  2. integer

    AARON MATE: … We hear, often, talk of Putin possibly being the richest person in the world as a result of his entanglement with the very corruption of Russia you’re speaking about…

    Few appear to be aware that Bill Browder is single-handedly responsible for starting, and spreading, the rumor that Putin’s net worth is $200 billion (for those who are unfamiliar with Browder, I highly recommend watching Andrei Nekrasov’s documentary titled “The Magnitsky Act – Behind the Scenes“). Browder appears to have first started this rumor early in 2015, and has repeated it ad nauseam since then, including in his testimony to the Senate Judiciary Committee in 2017. While Browder has always framed the $200 billion figure as his own estimate, that subtle qualifier has had little effect on the media’s willingness to accept it as fact.

    Interestingly, during the press conference at the Helsinki Summit, Putin claimed Browder sent $400 million of ill-gotten gains to the Clinton campaign. Putin retracted the statement and claimed to have misspoke a week or so later, however by that time the $400 million figure had been cited by numerous media outlets around the world. I think it is at least possible that Putin purposely exaggerated the amount of money in question as a kind of tit-for-tat response to Browder having started the rumor about his net worth being $200 billion.

    1. Blue Pilgrim

      The stories I saw said there was a mistranslation — but that the figure should have $400 thousand and not $400 million. Maybe Putin misspoke, but the $400,000 number is still significant, albeit far more reasonable.

      Putin never was on the Forbes list of billionaires, btw, and his campaign finance statement comes to far less. It never seems to occur to rabid capitalists or crooks that not everyone is like them, placing such importance on vast fortunes, or want to be dishonest, greedy, or power hungry. Putin is only ‘well off’ and that seems to satisfy him just fine as he gets on with other interests, values, and goals.

      1. integer

        Yes, $400,000 is the revised/correct figure. My having written that “Putin retracted the statement” was not the best choice of phrase. Also, the figure was corrected the day after it was made, not “a week or so later” as I wrote in my previous comment. From the Russia Insider link:

        Browder’s criminal group used many tax evasion methods, including offshore companies. They siphoned shares and funds from Russia worth over 1.5 billion dollars. By the way, $400,000 was transferred to the US Democratic Party’s accounts from these funds. The Russian president asked us to correct his statement from yesterday. During the briefing, he said it was $400,000,000, not $400,000. Either way, it’s still a significant amount of money.

    2. JohnnyGL

      I hadn’t heard about the revision/edit to the $400M, thanks!

      Seems crazy to think how much Russo-phobia seems to have been ginned up by one tax-dodging hedgie with an axe to grind.

      1. Procopius

        There’s something weird about the anti-Putin hysteria. Somehow, many, many people have come to believe they must demonstrate their membership in the tribe by accepting completely unsupported assertions that go against common sense.

  3. Eureka Springs

    In a sane world we the people would be furious with the Clinton campaign, especially the D party but the R’s as well, our media (again), and our intel/police State (again). Holding them all accountable while making sure this tsunami of deception and lies never happens again.

    It’s amazing even in time of the internetz those of us who really dig can only come up with a few sane voices. It’s much worse now in terms of the numbers of sane voices than it was in the run up to Iraq 2.

    1. CenterOfGravity

      Regardless of broad access to far more information in the digital age, never under estimate the self-preservation instinct of American exceptionalist mythology. There is an inverse relationship between the decline of US global primacy and increasingly desperate quest for adventurism. Like any case of addiction, looking outward for blame/salvation is imperative in order to prevent the mirror of self-reflection/realization from turning back onto ourselves.

  4. Michael

    I came to this article with an eagerness to counterbalance the media’s portrayal of Putin as a volcano-dwelling Bond villain. But I don’t find this “debunking” very compelling. About ordering the killing of journalists, we’re not to believe others’ very strongly laid out cases because Cohen says that he’s not seen any evidence? Does any sane person believe that there will ever be a Putin-signed contract provided as evidence? Does any sane person believe that Putin actually needs to “approve” a contract rather than signaling to his oligarch/mafia hierarchy that he’s unhappy about a newspaper or journalist’s reporting?

    About the possibility of Russian stretching its military power into Europe, we’re not supposed to believe that some NATO countries have a very real fear of Russia, and Trump’s ambivalent NATO support, because it was only the US who attacked Europe since WW2? These are not mutually exclusive issues – the US can have a murderous foreign policy AND Russia can still be interested in taking over strategic geopolitical and military targets “to protect its borders.”

    About Putin’s motives as politician, we’re supposed to believe that his motives are to protect Russian sovereignty and “make Russia whole again, protect its people, and secure its defenses” because Cohen reads him as a biographer? There are other interpretations of Putin from those without any geopolitical skin in the game. To them, his motives are not so gregariously focused on the people. While it’s true that power corrupts and has led to many US powerbrokers – politicians and “captains of industry” alike – to put their self-interests above those of their constituents and employees, why can’t we apply this same lens to Putin and his oligarchs?

    The US foreign policy has been disastrous for millions of people since world war 2. But Cohen’s arguments that Russia isn’t as bad as the US is just a bunch of whattaboutism.

    1. Carolinian

      There are other interpretations of Putin from those without any geopolitical skin in the game

      Wha? Cohen is a professor at Princeton and NYU who I believe is in his 70s. What “skin in the game” do you suppose he has? He has been widely ostracized for his views. You present no argument whatsoever other than “irresponsible not to speculate” about Putin’s motives and actions. As Cohen says the promoters of Cold War 2 seem to be allergic to provable demonstrations of fact–your comment included. To say that it’s all so mysterious and hidden or that we should trust intelligence agencies (who do have budgets and jobs as skin in the game) doesn’t cut it.

      1. Michael

        Can we take the article in isolation weigh the arguments that the article’s author presented? I’m not trying to prove anything one way or another. (I do not start with conclusions and then look for support). My point about skin in the game is exactly what you say – it’s difficult to trust intelligence agencies and politicians exactly because of the budgetary and institutional bias that you mention. I thought “finally Cohen, a more neutral academic without skin in the game is providing a set of arguments to temper the media concerns about Putin’s activities.” But “US is worse because it bombed Serbia and that it was backing Georgian rebels” is not an argument about Putin’s possible aggression, it’s a comment on misguided and barbarous US policy. I don’t know how we can say the US is beholden to the military-industrial complex that drives much of its foreign policy decisions but give Putin a pass on the likelihood of being exactly the same. There is little “fact” in this article.

        1. Code Name D

          >> I’m not trying to prove anything one way or another.

          But you are the one with the burden of proof. If you want to defend the Russia-Russia hysteria or even to entertain its veracity, it’s up to you to provide the evidence. We are skeptical precisely because there is no evidence presented.

          >> (I do not start with conclusions and then look for support).

          With respect, your previous post suggests otherwise. I quote, “About ordering the killing of journalists, we’re not to believe others’ very strongly laid out cases because Cohen says that he’s not seen any evidence? Does any sane person believe that there will ever be a Putin-signed contract provided as evidence?” Well, a signed hit contract would be compelling – but any verifiable evidence will do. Accusations alone however, will not. That which is asserted without evidence, can be dismissed without evidence.

          >> But “US is worse because it bombed Serbia and that it was backing Georgian rebels” is not an argument about Putin’s possible aggression, it’s a comment on misguided and barbarous US policy.

          You are correct on both counts, the “what-about-ism” here doesn’t address Putin’s possible “aggression” and does reflect poorly on US policy.

          But it doses call into question the integrity of those forwarding the hysteria. If Democrats are sooooo concerned about Putin’s “aggression” against the US election? They why are they not also talking about Republican cross check, which arguably had a far greater impact over the election, or the hackability of electronic voting machines, or the rigging of the Democratic primary? Why do they not have any strategy to harden our election system, even from further alleged “Putin aggression?” Democrats continue to ignore election concerns that Progressives have been attempting to raise ever sense the Florida hanging-chads debacle. You can’t credibly clutch your perils over one issue and ignore all other related issues and implications.

          >> I don’t know how we can say the US is beholden to the military-industrial complex that drives much of its foreign policy decisions but give Putin a pass on the likelihood of being exactly the same. There is little “fact” in this article.

          Odd, I found a wealth of information here. Perhaps you should go back and watch the video again. That said, we are the skeptics here, its not out responsibility to provide evidence, but it is the providence of any rational mine to explore any evidence that challenges or even refutes the hysteria.

          You are privileged to present evidence to support the hysteria at your nearest convenience. Until that happens, I feel justified in dismissing the hysteria.

    2. integer

      we’re not to believe… we’re not supposed to believe… we’re supposed to believe…

      Believe whatever you want, however your comment gives the impression that you came to this article because you felt the need to push back against anything that does not conform to the liberal international order’s narrative on Putin and Russia, rather than “with an eagerness to counterbalance the media’s portrayal of Putin”. WRT to whataboutism, I like Greenwald’s definition of the term:

      “Whataboutism”: the term used to bar inquiry into whether someone adheres to the moral and behavioral standards they seek to impose on everyone else. That’s its functional definition.

        1. Amfortas the Hippie

          aye. I’ve never seen it used by anyone aside from the worst Hill Trolls.
          Indeed, when it was first thrown at me, I endeavored to look it up, and found that all references to it were from Hillaryites attempting to diss apostates and heretics.

        2. Jonathan Holland Becnel

          Eh, probably

          John Oliver, whos been completely sucking lately with TDS, did a semi decent segment on Whataboutism.

    3. Eureka Springs

      The degree of consistency and or lack of hypocrisy based on words and actions separates US from Russia to an astonishing level. That is Russia’s largest threat to US, our deceivers. The propaganda tables have turned and we are deceiving ourselves to points of collective insanity and warmongering with a great nuclear power while we are at it. Warmongering is who we are and what we do.

      Does Russia have a GITMO, torture Chelsea Manning, openly say they want to kill Snowden and Assange? Is Russia building up arsenals on our borders while maintaining hundreds of foreign bases and conducting several wars at any given moment while constantly threatening to foment more wars? Is Russia dropping another trillion on nuclear arsenals? Is Russia forcing us to maintain such an anti democratic system and an even worse, an entirely hackable electronic voting system?

      You ready to destroy the world, including your own, rather than look in the mirror?

    4. rkka

      You’re talking about extending Russian military power into Europe when the military spending of NATO Europe alone exceeds Russia’s by almost 5-1 (more like 12-1 when one includes the US and Canada), have about triple the number of soldiers than Russia has, and when the Russian ground forces are numerically smaller than they have been in at least 200 years?

      ” to put their self-interests above those of their constituents and employees, why can’t we apply this same lens to Putin and his oligarchs?”

      The oligarchs got their start under Yeltsin and his FreeMarketDemocraticReformers, whose policies were so catastrophic that deaths were exceeding births by almost a million a year by the late ’90s, with no end in sight. Central to Yeltsin’s governance was the corrupt privatization, by which means the Seven Bankers came to control the Russian economy and Russian politics.

      Central to Putin’s popularity are the measures he took to curb oligarchic predation in 2003-2005. Because of this, Russia’s debt:GDP ratio went from 1.0 to about 0.2, and Russia’s demographic recovery began while Western analysis were still predicting the death of Russia.

      So Putin is the anti-oligarch in Russian domestic politics.

    5. Blue Pilgrim

      “While it’s true that power corrupts”

      I know of many people who sacrifice their own interests for those of their children (over whom they have virtually absolute power), family member and friends. I know of others who dedicate their lives to justice, peace, the well being of their nation, the world, and other people — people who find far greater meaning and satisfaction in this than in accumulating power or money. Other people have their own goals, such as producing art, inventing interesting things, reading and learning, and don’t care two hoots about power or money as long as their immediate needs are met.

      I’m cynical enough about humans without thinking the worst of everyone and every group or culture. Not everyone thinks only of nails and wants to be hammers, or are sociopaths. There are times when people are more or less forced into taking power, or getting more money, even if they don’t want it, because they want to change things for the better or need to defend themselves.
      There are people who get guns and learn how to use them only because they feel a need for defending themselves and family but who don’t like guns and don’t want to shoot anyone or anything.

      There are many people who do not want to be controlled and bossed around, but neither want to boss around anyone else. The world is full of such people. If they are threatened and attacked, however, expect defensive reactions. Same as for most animals which are not predators, and even predators will generally not attack other animals if they are not hungry or threatened — but that does not mean they are not competent or can be dangerous.

      Capitalism is not only inherently predatory, but is inherently expansive without limits, with unlimited ambition for profits and control. It’s intrinsically very competitive and imperialist. Capitalism is also a thing which was exported to Russia, starting soon after the Russian Revolution, which was immediately attacked and invaded by the West, and especially after the fall of the Soviet Union. Soviet Russia had it’s own problems, which it met with varying degrees of success, but were quite different from the aggressive capitalism and imperialism of the US and Europe.

      Not every culture and person are the same.

    6. BenX

      The pro-Putin propaganda is pretty interesting to witness, and of course not everything Cohen says is skewed pro-Putin – that’s what provides credibility. But “Putin kills everybody” is something NOBODY says (except Cohen, twice in one interview) – Putin is actually pretty selective of those he decides to have killed. But of course, he doesn’t kill anyone, personally – therefore he’s an innocent lamb, accidentally running Russia as a dictator.

      1. rkka

        The most recent dictator in Russian history was Boris Yeltsin, who turned tanks on his legislature while it was in the legal and constitutional process of impeaching him, and whose policies were so catastrophic for Russians (who were dying off at the rate of 900k/yr) that he had to steal his re-election because he had a 5% approval rating.

        But he did as the US gvt told him, so I guess that makes him a Democrat.

        Under Putin Russia recovered from being helpless, bankrupt & dying, but Russia has an independent foreign policy, so that makes Putin a dictator. ?

    7. Plenue

      “Does any sane person believe that there will ever be a Putin-signed contract provided as evidence? Does any sane person believe that Putin actually needs to “approve” a contract rather than signaling to his oligarch/mafia hierarchy that he’s unhappy about a newspaper or journalist’s reporting?”

      Why do you think Putin even needs, or feels a need, to have journalists killed in the first place? I see no evidence to support this basic assumption.

      The idea of Russia poised to attack Europe is…interesting, in light of the fact that they’ve cut their military spending by 20%. And even before that the budgets of France, Germany, and the UK combined well exceeded that of Russia, to say nothing of the rest of NATO or the US.

      Putin’s record speaks for itself. This again points to the absurdity of claiming he’s had reporters killed: he doesn’t need to. He has a vast amount of genuine public support because he’s salvaged the country and pieced it back together after the pillaging of the Yeltsin years. That he himself is a corrupt oligarch I have no particular doubt of. But if he just wanted to enrich himself, he’s had a very funny way of going about it. Pray tell, what are these ‘other interpretations’?

      “The US foreign policy has been disastrous for millions of people since world war 2. But Cohen’s arguments that Russia isn’t as bad as the US is just a bunch of whattaboutism.”

      What countries has the Russian Federation destroyed?

      1. witters

        Here is a fascinating essay [“Are We Reading Russia Right?”] by Nicolai N. Petro who currently holds the Silvia-Chandley Professorship of Peace Studies and Nonviolence at the University of Rhode Island. His books include, Ukraine
        in Crisis (Routledge, 2017), Crafting Democracy (Cornell, 2004), The Rebirth of Russian Democracy (Harvard, 1995), and Russian Foreign Policy, co-authored with Alvin Z. Rubinstein (Longman, 1997). A graduate of the University of Virginia, he is the recipient of Fulbright awards to Russia and to Ukraine, as well as fellowships from the Foreign Policy Research Institute, the National Council for Eurasian and East European Research, the Kennan Institute for Advanced Russian Studies in Washington,
        D.C., and the Hoover Institution at Stanford University. As a Council on Foreign Relations Fellow, he served as special assistant for policy toward the Soviet Union in the U.S. Department of State from 1989 to 1990. In addition to scholarly publications
        on Russia and Ukraine, he has written for Asia Times, American Interest, Boston Globe, Christian Science Monitor, The Guardian (UK), The Nation, New York Times, and Wilson Quarterly. His writings have appeared frequently on the web sites of the Carnegie Council for Ethics in International Affairs and The National Interest.

        I warn you – it is terrifying!

    8. Oregoncharles

      I noticed that his take on the murders of journalists was weak. There is also a problem with his discussion of the war with Georgia: both N. Ossetia and the other now-Russian protectorate are legally part of Georgia. When Georgia attacked N. Ossetia, it was doing exactly what Putin did in Chechnya: trying to recover its territory. Russia’s counterattack was aggression. As I read it, the events in Ukraine were quite a bit more ambiguous. But Russia has a history of peeling bits off of former Soviet republics.

      And having spoken with people from some of the frontline countrie (Poland, in particular), I think it’s important for us to remember that those countries have real reason to be nervous. Their position is a lot like Cuba’s, only they have large Russian minorities. That doesn’t mean that provocations by the US are the way to protect them; a proper mutual security system would be far better. In truth, Putin has plenty of problems at home and little reason to take on more.

      That said, Russia’s a lot less aggressive than the US has been.

  5. Carolinian

    Thanks for so much for this. Great stuff. Cohen says the emperor has no clothes so naturally the empire doesn’t want him on television. I believe he has been on CNN one or two times and I saw him once on the PBS Newshour where the interviewer asked skeptical questions with a pained and skeptical look. He seems to be the only prominent person willing to stand up and call bs on the Russia hate. There are plenty of pundits and commentators who do that but not many Princeton professors.

  6. Thye Rev Kev

    It has been said in recent years that the greatest failure of American foreign policy was the invasion of Iraq. I think that they are wrong. The greatest failure, in my opinion, is to push both China and Russia together into a semi-official pact against American ambitions. In the same way that the US was able to split China from the USSR back in the seventies, the best option was for America to split Russia from China and help incorporate them into the western system. The waters for that idea have been so fouled by the Russia hysteria, if not dementia, that that is no longer a possibility. I just wish that the US would stop sowing dragon’s teeth – it never ends well.

    1. NotTimothyGeithner

      The best option, but the “American exceptionalists” went nuts. Also, the usual play book of stoking fears of the “yellow menace” would have been too on the nose. Americans might not buy it, and there was a whole cottage industry of “the rising China threat” except the potential consumer market place and slave labor factories stopped that from happening.

      Bringing Russia into the West effectively means Europe, and I think that creates a similar dynamic to a Russian/Chinese pact. The basic problem with the EU is its led by a relatively weak but very German power which makes the EU relatively weak or controllable as long as the German electorate is relatively sedate. I think they still need the international structures run by the U.S. to maintain their dominance. What Russia and the pre-Erdogan Turkey (which was never going to be admitted to the EU) presented was significant upsets to the existing EU order with major balances to Germany which I always believed would make the EU potentially more dynamic. Every decision wouldn’t require a pilgrimage to Berlin. The British were always disinterested. The French had made arrangements with Germany, and Italy is still Italy. Putting Russia or Turkey (pre-Erdogan) would have disrupted this arrangement.

  7. John Wright

    >which is oddly not easy to locate on its site

    It appeared to me that Aaron Mate knew he was dealing with a weak hand by the end of the interview.

    When Mate stated “it’s widely held that Putin is responsible for the killing of journalists and opposition activists who oppose him.”

    There are many widely held beliefs in the world, and that does not make them true.

    For example, It was widely held, and still may be believed by some, that Saddam Hussein was involved in the events of 9/11.

    It is widely believed that humans are not responsible, in any part, for climate change.

    Mate may have been embarrassed when he saw the final version and as a courtesy to him, the interview was made more difficult to find.

      1. John Wright

        Yes, but Mate brought it into the discussion, as if mattered to entire Russian narrative.

        I don’t care if Mate’ believes it or not, bringing it into the discussion at all, showed, to me, that Mate’ was flailing.

        1. pretzelattack

          i think he was serving up softballs to draw out cohen’s response, as opposed to flailing. i appreciated it because i learned from cohen’s response.

          1. Harry

            Exactly. I didnt know that Cohen knew Politkovskaya or that her family do not blame Putin.

    1. JohnnyGL

      Russo-phobes like Luke Harding often casually state that Putin kills journalists.

      Chris Wallace of Fox News interviewed Putin and asked about dead journalists.

      This is a standard anti-putin talking point. It was worth discussing with a Russia expert. I’ve got no idea about the merits of it. But, let’s be honest, the facts don’t matter in our media landscape. Cohen says he can’t find anything that indicates it’s true, I’ll lean in his direction.

  8. RUKidding

    Thanks for this post. Very interesting and helpful for trying to separate the wheat from the chaff in our unending b.s. propaganda mess that passes for “media” these days.

  9. David in Santa Cruz

    Thank you for posting this reasoned discussion. I think that it should be read/listened to in conjunction with Jeremy Scahill’s interview with Masha Gessen this week on the Intercepted podcast. Gessen, no fan of Putin, sees the American hysteria through the lens of Russian domestic politics. She comes to a very similar conclusion to that of Prof. Cohen. Mr. Putin has been able to portray himself domestically as an international puppet-master, and has used Obama’s sanctions to “build that Wall” and to keep fleeing capital inside Russia, while supporting domestic industries that were being decimated by international competition.

    Hearing Prof. Cohen and Ms. Gessen, I have my doubts that Mr. Putin has authority or control over the entire Russian state and society, let alone can “order” assassinations. Rather, he is building his personal political power by manipulating American policy and the “Wild West” nature of post-Yeltsin capitalism in ways that make ordinary Russians feel the need for his authoritarianism. He makes both Trump and Obama look like fools.

    1. Blue Pilgrim

      You might like to see
      Stallin’ democracy? Ft. Samantha Lomb, Assistant professor at Vyatka State University
      Published time: 17 Jun, 2018 07:30
      Is Putin’s Rule a Dictatorship? – RAI with A. Buzgalin (8/12)
      July 22, 2018
      Putin is Anointed King, but Big Capital has the Real Power – RAI with A. Buzgalin (7/12)
      July 20, 2018

      One of them said something like Russians tend to see democracy as the free market exploitation (by the US), and also there is a traditional view favoring authoritarianism in government as being stable (peaceful). That, coupled with strong regional power and identification and leaders with hierarchical structures, as well as corruption (bribery and such), would make gathering enough power to control the federal government and oppose the oligarchs a challenge. There is also the hierarchical power of the Orthodox Church. Yet there is also appreciation for individual freedom and tolerance for others who are not enemies: when Russians say sovereignty is important they mean it.

      Russian values, conditioned by the vast geography and regional governments and cultures, history, and wars against it, should not be expected to be the same as US or European culture.

      Americans have great trouble understanding any foreign culture and people wanting to be in control of themselves.

  10. JEHR

    Today Russia considers itself part of Europe. When Russia was a monarchy, it certainly had a lot in common with European monarchies and some Russian culture is still shared with Europeans. Russia is partly located in Europe and partly in Asia and when NATO, for example, treats Russia as if it were the enemy, it denies that part of Russia that is truly European. I find it refreshing to hear that Russia today is not just an enemy and one can be friends with those peoples who have different cultural backgrounds and different beliefs.

    1. JTMcPhee

      Historically, the powers that rule “European” nations have had no reservations about warring on other “European” nations. No problem jumping to the strategic notion even today of attacking Russia, whatever bits of Europeanism may persist or grow there. Hasn’t worked out so well (via military means) in the past. One wonders how effective the injection of the neoliberal oligarchic pathogen into Mother Russia will be, over time, or whether there will be some effective resistance to the disease.

      How amazing it is that it seems Putin has somehow, by adhering to some organizing principle about which there’s huge debate as to what it might be, brought about the current state of health of the Russian body politic… Is autarky one of the desirables he pursues? In the face of enormous mortal threats from us Western “democracies?”

  11. Alexander Davis

    Real news with Stephen F. Cohen talking about Putin? Ha-ha-ha-ha-ha… What’s next: Professor Dugin discusses NATO expansion?

    1. Ur-Blintz

      well, this posting sure brought out some otherwise unknown crazies to NC, huh?

      Merhinks they protest too much…

      intelligence/ natl. security propaganda trolls is my guess…

  12. Tomonthebeach

    Cohen’s remarks about Clinton, not Putin, invading Serbia is naive. It overlooks how Putin uses the Russian Orthodox church to stir up feelings of hate intolerance for Muslims. It is much like he uses Facebook to achieve the same ends in the USA. Putin’s finger prints are all over the Balkan fiasco.

    Why do we keep talking, as Cohen does, about Russian takeovers in EU’s sphere of influence? Are we so lame that we do not recognize the huge economic and political edge chaos in that sphere affords Putin – not the least of which is weakening or distracting NATO?

    Crimea was entirely different from a Serbia. Crimea is Russia’s main naval base in the Black Sea region. Did not the USA annex Hawaii – the US Navy’s main base in the Pacific region? In both states the peaceful occupation of Naval Base which brings in valued foreign exchange, makes any plebiscite biased in favor of the status quo. Easy pickins in both cases.

    1. pretzelattack

      do you have any evidence of putin “using facebook” to achieve some end in the u.s.? or for that matter, using the russian orthodox church in russia? which balkan fiasco are you talking about? and what russian takeovers? crimea isn’t in the eu’s sphere of influence, nor georgia. nato is invading russia’s sphere of influence, by expanding into it. the crimea has been ethnically russian for a long time, but was given by kruschev to the ukraine in the 50’s; i’d think that was the main reason crimea voted for annexation, along with fear of the coup government.

    2. Plenue

      “It is much like he uses Facebook to achieve the same ends in the USA.”

      So…badly? And even that is being generous, since all of the actual evidence points to the ‘op’ having been a commercial click-bait advertising scheme, not some Russian government attempt at voter manipulation.

      I really, really love the idea that 100k spent on Facebook ads, including buff Bernie and both pro- and anti-Beyonce ads, most of which were seen by no one, and half of which ran after the 2016 election, are what swung the election. Oh, I’m sorry, ‘swung’ isn’t the latest talking point is it? I meant ‘disrupted our politics’. All for 100,000 dollars! If that’s how low the costs are, I could change the world with a mortgage!

      I’m seriously beginning to wonder if Russiagate literally makes people dumber. As in believing in it somehow kills braincells.

    3. Unna

      Putin is not using the Orthodox Church to stir up hatred against Muslims. Putin sees the Orthodox Church as a cultural upholder of traditional values. A glue that holds society together. He sees moderate Islam as doing the same. A few years ago Putin built in Moscow I believe the largest Mosque in Europe and dedicated it along with the leaders of several Muslim countries including Turkey. All those de confliction Russian troops in Syria are Chechen Muslim Russian military police. They’re there because they understand Syrian-Muslim culture better and seem to be doing an incredible job. Russia is a multi cultural multi racial linguistic country which can’t do “Russian ethnic nationalism” and expect to stay together. That’s why extreme Russian nationalist-racist groups are banned in Russia.

    4. Elizabeth Burton

      The Crimea voted to be annexed by Russia by a clear majority. The US overran Hawaii with total disregard for the wishes of the native population. Your comparison is invalid.

    5. vato

      ”Putin’s finger prints are all over the Balkan fiasco”.How is that with Putin only becoming president in 2000 and the Nato bombing started way beforehand. It’s ridiculous to think that Putin had any major influence at that time as govenor or director of the domestic intelligence service on what was going during the bombing of NATO on Belgrad. Even Gerhard Schroeder, then chancellor of the Federal Republic of Germany, admitted in an interview in 2014 with a major German Newspaper (Die Zeit) that this invasion of Nato was a fault and against international law!
      Can you concrete what you mean by ”fingerprints” or is this just another platitudes?

      1. Code Name D

        This just in, Putin’s “finger prints” was found all over the Bay of Pig’s incident to make the US look bad in the eyes of Cuba. -GASP- Oh wait.

  13. clarky90

    “which is oddly not easy to locate on its site”. I am finding, over the last 12 months or so, that the treasure trove of information and POVs, that used to just fall into my lap, is drying up. It is harder and harder, “to find out”.

    It is as if “An Iron Curtain” of censorship, is incrementally descending on the West. Slowly and carefully, so as not to startle us as we stroll up the ramp.

  14. ewmayer

    “Somebody called it Trump derangement syndrome.”

    I believe that the full and proper name of the psychiatric disorder in question is Putin-Trump Derangement Syndrome [PTDS].

    Symptoms include:

    o Eager and uncritical ingestion and social-media regurgitation of even the most patently absurd MSM propaganda. For example, the meme that releasing factual information about actual election-meddling (as Wikileaks did about the Dem-establishment’s rigging of its own nomination process in 2016) is a grave threat to American Democracy™;

    o Recent-onset veneration of the intelligence agencies, whose stock in trade is spying on and lying to the American people, spreading disinformation, election rigging, torture and assassination and its agents, such as liar and perjurer Clapper and torturer Brennan;

    o Rehabilitation of horrid unindicted GOP war criminals like G.W. Bush as alleged examples of “norms-respecting Republican patriots”;

    o Smearing of anyone who dares question the MSM-stoked hysteria as an America-hating Russian stooge.

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