Stephen F. Cohen: The United States Desperately Needs A New Policy Towards Russia

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Stephen Cohen, professor emeritus of Russian studies and politics at New York University and Princeton University, debates Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch, about U.S. policy towards Russia and accusations that Vladimir Putin hacked the U.S. elections. From Wednesday's edition of 'Democracy Now.'

"We desperately need in this country a discussion of American policy toward Russia. We can’t keep saying an untruth, that this new Cold War is solely the fault of Putin," Cohen said.

He also said: "We have a new accepted practice of labeling anyone who dissents from American policy toward Russia as a Kremlin apologist. And I know very serious people who have become afraid to speak out now, because they don’t want to be labeled."

STEPHEN COHEN, PRINCETON UNIVERSITY: I don’t know where to begin. Let me context it, because when we first—when you first had me on, February 2014, I said we were headed for a new Cold War with Russia, and it would be more dangerous than the last one. That has happened. We now have three Cold War fronts that are fraught with hot war, the possibility of hot war—the Baltic area, Ukraine and Syria—between two nuclear powers. Things are very, very dangerous.

We desperately need in this country a discussion of American policy toward Russia. We can’t keep saying an untruth, that this new Cold War is solely the fault of Putin. We need to rethink our policy, at least over 20 years, but over the last five or six years, toward Russia. That has been made even more impossible now with this slurring of anybody who disagrees from the official American position of how the Cold War arose. The slurring began against people such as myself two or three years ago. We were called Putin apologists, Kremlin toadies, Kremlin clients. It moved on to even accuse Henry Kissinger of that. And then, of course, when Trump come along, this was a great blessing to these people, who are essentially neo-McCarthyites. It’s spread to The New York Times.

So we have his allegation that the Russians deliberately—word Mr. Roth likes; I think there’s more accident and miscalculation in history than he seems to think—deliberately, on the orders of Putin, hacked into the Democratic National Committee, and not only, in order to—and here the narrative gets a little puzzling. The original intention was simply to throw American democracy into chaos, cast disrepute on the American political system, but then they realized that they could actually throw the election to Trump. Now we have The New York Times, what used to be a newspaper we thought would protect us from these kinds of allegations, saying in an editorial that they did this, the Russians did this, because Trump is surrounded by Kremlin lackeys. This is an extremely serious and reckless allegation, that he’s—our new president is surrounded by Kremlin lackeys. They don’t name names, but we know how they mean—what they mean. And both the editorial page of the Times and Paul Krugman, who, after all, won a Nobel Prize and once was my colleague at Princeton as an economist—it’s really astonishing to see what he now writes—says that Trump won only because of what the Russians did. What we have from the CIA, which itself is divided—we know that there are different opinions in the CIA—we have yet to be presented with a single fact. In this New York Times story, which rehearses, basically, New York Times’ miscoverage of this whole episode, they do the same thing. They are assessments, which is judgment. They are allegations. But no one has produced how they know this with facts. Did they tap into Russian cellphones? Do they have a mole in Putin’s inner circle who’s telling them? Do they have satellite surveillance? We don’t know.

Let me bring to your attention something that’s not been reported. There’s a group of very serious former American intelligence officers called, I think, Veteran Intelligence Officers for Sanity. I’m not sure.

AMY GOODMAN: VIPS [Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity].

STEPHEN COHEN: You know them. And they issued a report yesterday. I can’t judge it. I’m not an intelligence person in that sense. But they believe this wasn’t hacking at all, but leaking, that somebody leaked this stuff from the Democratic—in other words, somebody in the United States. So, here we have no facts presented by the CIA. The FBI itself will not go along, because it’s a fact organization. It’s got to have evidence that’s presentable in a court. We have the possibility—I don’t know, but it’s offered by credible people—that this wasn’t hacking, but leaking. And the result is, we’re having the new president called essentially a Kremlin lackey. Senator McCain has said, to his eternal discredit, that Putin is a bully, a liar, an invader of countries, a man who’s determined to destroy the American way of life, and adds, if anybody doesn’t agree with Senator McCain, he’s a liar. So—

AMY GOODMAN: He also calls Putin a killer. Do you agree?

STEPHEN COHEN: A killer, a murderer. No, I do not. Well, I mean, killer, in warfare, yes. He didn’t—oh, well, McCain went on to say that Putin had personally ordered the killing of Boris Nemtsov, a Russian opposition who was shot down on a bridge. No one in Moscow takes that seriously, not even Nemtsov’s family. But the point we have here, Amy—and this is exceedingly dangerous—is that we have a new accepted practice of labeling anyone who dissents from American policy toward Russia as a Kremlin apologist. And I know very serious people who have become afraid to speak out now, because they don’t want to be labeled...

We’re in the most dangerous confrontation with Russia since the Cuban missile crisis. It needs to be discussed. And at the moment, it can’t be discussed because of these charges that everybody is a client of Putin who disagrees with the mainstream opinion. And it’s coming from the Senate. It’s coming from The New York Times. It’s coming from—and I wish we had a second to say what the motives are. But one motive is to keep Trump from going to the White House. Another is to delegitimize him before he gets there. But the main motive—and you can hear it clearly—is Trump has said he wants cooperation with Russia, and the war party here that’s against that is determined to stop it. And the way you do it is level against Putin the kinds of accusations that Mr. Roth uncritically levels, so the rest of us will say we can’t have any cooperations with Putin because he’s a war criminal.

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